AT&T is committed to serving public-safety users that subscribe to FirstNet, which is illustrated by the carrier’s enhancements of its network, personnel and disaster-recovery efforts that have been tested in recent months, according to Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president for FirstNet.

“This is not just a government contract for us,” Sambar said last week during IWCE’s Critical LTE Communications Forum in Dallas. “This is not a spectrum deal, as other carriers have referred to it. This is a mission for us.”

Sambar said his team overseeing the deployment and operation of the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) will have “roughly 300” employees in the areas of sales, service and program management, including many with public-safety-communications experience.

“The FirstNet authority holds AT&T accountable, and my organization holds the rest of AT&T accountable,” Sambar said. “As you can imagine, it takes tens of thousands of people to bring something like this to reality. We’re going to touch over 50,000 towers just in a few years, putting Band 14 and other features into our network.

“In order to do that, you need tens of thousands of people working on it, and you need an organization like mine that’s holding them accountable and saying, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do, according to the contract, and this is what we have to do, according to the mission.’”

Sambar said that some of the key differentiators between FirstNet service for public safety and typical commercial offerings include:

  • Always-on priority and preemption for public safety across AT&T’s network;
  • A dedicated public-safety LTE core with encryption—“this is not fast lanes on our commercial core;”
  • A dedicated security operations center staffed by about 100 people; and
  • FirstNet’s applications store that will provide access only to applications that have been vetted by FirstNet and AT&T contractor Sapient for public-safety relevance, functionality and security.

In addition, AT&T will provide public-safety FirstNet subscribers with disaster-recovery capabilities that leverage the carrier giant’s access considerable access to infrastructure resources, research and development—a characteristic that Sambar referenced as “big.”

“We’re big, and big is a good thing,” he said.

Specifically, the combination of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria—as well as massive wildfires in the western U.S.—resulted in AT&T reporting a $200 million loss to earnings during the third quarter and that the company could experience additional financial impacts in the fourth quarter as the carrier implements recovery efforts in these areas, Sambar said.

“You need a company that’s big to be able to absorb something like that,” Sambar said.