AT&T, Inc., announced today that it is now offering preemption across its network for public safety users. The carrier, FirstNet’s network partner, had said that it would begin offering preemption by year-end. It has been offering priority access since it began enrolling subscribers after it signed a 25-year contract with FirstNet earlier this year (TR Daily, March 30).
“First responders have been very clear about their immediate need for preemption. During the collaborative conversations that shaped our FirstNet plan, preemption continually topped the list of mission-critical tools first responders wanted to see first on the network,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president-FirstNet for AT&T. “So, we promised to make it available by the end of the year. And we’re proud to honor that commitment. This is game-changing for first responders, and as far as we know, this is the first-ever launch of preemption at this scale in the world.”
“Preemption is immediately available in opt-in states at no additional charge to current and future FirstNet subscribers who are primary users,” AT&T said in a news release. “Primary users include fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services, emergency managers, dispatch and Public Safety Answering Points. Preemption will enhance priority services already available on FirstNet. Priority moves first responders to the front of the ‘communications line,’ prioritizing their network needs. Preemption goes a step further to make sure first responders can access FirstNet when they need to, 24/7/365. When the line becomes crowded, it shifts non-emergency traffic to another line, freeing up space for first responders to easily get through. Calls or texts to 911 will never be shifted from the network.”
“As a first responder on 9/11, I experienced the communications challenges that can happen in large emergencies as networks become congested and overwhelmed,” Fairfax County, Va., Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Bowers said in the AT&T news release. “Now, with the launch of preemption on FirstNet, for the first time, public safety is ensured a ‘fast lane’ to connect. FirstNet will provide reliability, confidence and ability for first responders to be able to communicate during emergency operations. Virginia was first in to opt in, and we’re all in to ensure emergency communications are seamless for first responders.”
“The launch of preemption is a tremendous achievement for public safety personnel – who have asked for, fought for, and needed this solution for years,” said FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth. “We are pleased that FirstNet is the first broadband network to deliver this capability to public safety.”
Verizon Communications, Inc., is trying to compete with FirstNet by also offering priority access and, by the end of this month, preemption to public safety subscribers. It plans to complete a public safety core by March 2018, the same timeframe as AT&T’s dedicated FirstNet core.
A Verizon spokesman said today that “services like priority access and preemption would only be necessary if the local network is nearing capacity. Coverage, capacity, and reliability are what are truly important. When the network is able to handle the traffic riding on it, invoking priority access or preemption wouldn’t be necessary. For example, in Texas and Florida in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, our network performed extremely well, so we didn’t need to make priority access available. Other wireless carriers’ networks didn’t fare as well. And if a network is down, no level of priority access or preemption matters.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org