AT&T yesterday announced that more than 1,000 public-safety agencies in 52 states and territories have joined FirstNet, which is surpassing expectations in meeting key milestones for adoption, deployment and technical capabilities, according to FirstNet board members.

FirstNet agencies include 11 state patrol agencies, tribal public-safety agencies, volunteer first responders, utilities and school districts, according to AT&T. Almost 100,000 FirstNet connections have been used by public-safety agencies to provide communications during myriad response efforts, according to an AT&T press release.

“I think that’s very exciting, and I think we’re already seeing examples where that is making a huge difference for the interaction—both voice and data—between the agencies that they didn’t have before,” FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson said during this week’s FirstNet board meeting. “They’ve had situations where, as a result, they’ve been more effective in their goal to save lives—not only their own, but the lives of the people they’re protecting.”

Swenson noted that FirstNet’s subscriber-paid—or bring your own devices (BYOD)—offering is “fairly unique in the market” and that deployable assets already have been utilized on numerous occasions. In addition, key components of the FirstNet ecosystem are progressing well, with 31 approved devices and a significant number of applications completing the vetting process for use on the FirstNet network, she said.

“All of this is happening at a time when I think people thought it would be a couple of years before they saw this service available,” Swenson said. “I think it’s exciting that we’re making this amount of progress frankly so early into the project.”

FirstNet board member Neil Cox, chairman of the FirstNet Technical Committee, emphasized the importance of the dedicated FirstNet core network, which he described as “really the bedrock of what we’re doing” to provide a nationwide broadband network to public safety.

“It’s not some virtual private network or some MVNO-type thing; this is the fifth network in the United States,” Cox said during the FirstNet board meeting. “It is a dedicated core. It is a dedicated cellular network. It has its own billing and collections. It has its own network monitoring. This is an extremely, extremely important aspect of what we have.

“This is the network for public safety … I don’t know if we talk enough about that, but this network is built to standards like no other network out there. It’s very important that we remember that.”

Mark Golaszewski, FirstNet’s director of applications, echoed this sentiment, noting that the FirstNet system benefits from “dedicated security monitoring of the network 24/7/365.”

FirstNet also lets “primary” public-safety subscribers determine when “extended primary” FirstNet subscribers—for instance, certain personnel at a utility, government or school district—can be “uplifted” in real time to receive high-level, preemptive access to the FirstNet system when their communications are deemed to be crucial to the response effort for an incident, Golaszewski said.

“That [uplifiting functionality] is a unique capability of this offering that isn’t available anywhere else,” Golaszewski said.