- AT&T announced Tuesday it has officially launched the FirstNet evolved packet core, which will operate "like the brain and nervous system of FirstNet." The core will control the FirstNet network, process and carry information, and establish the foundation of the "unified, interoperable and nationwide communications system."
- The core was built on physically separate hardware that prioritizes security "at every level," according to AT&T. The company says it will be monitored 24/7 by a dedicated Security Operations Center team.
- The controlled launch includes a limited number of customers. Once the pilot launch is completed, other FirstNet customers will transition to the core, likely in April or May.
In a statement, AT&T senior vice president Chris Sambar said the FirstNet public-private partnership has experienced "a non-stop 12 months." Since first partnering on the network, AT&T and FirstNet officials have worked diligently — while investing hundreds of millions of dollars — to establish the secure first responder network and get all 50 U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, DC, on board.
The launch announcement follows the inaugural FirstNet hackathon, which took place in San Francisco on March 23-24. The event attracted 29 teams to ideate and create applications that will allow FirstNet users to enhance their experience on the network. "First Assist," a web-based application that collects live data from people with mobility disabilities to send to first responders during an emergency, won the top prize for Best App Overall. "Dispatch.it," an app that uses an algorithm to prioritize at-risk callers, and "SRescue," an app that tracks and displays victims' health and location on a 3-D map, won second and third place, respectively.
Though the hackathon was deemed a success in raising awareness about the network, it is unclear which applications will actually be folded into the portfolio of network capabilities. Prathima Simha of the FirstNet App Ecosystem said in an email to Smart Cities Dive "the ball is ultimately in our developers' court. We encourage our teams, as well as others, to continue 'coding for good' by developing these and other solutions for public safety."
As FirstNet continues to ramp up its offerings, competitors are on its tail. Today, Verizon is expected to launch its own public safety private core, which will provide a number of similar offerings, including "traffic segmentation, priority and preemption, improved security and enhanced service management and control," according to a press statement. Closely monitoring the rollout of these networks will be crucial for providers to stay competitive while maintaining focus on the importance of safety and security.