FirstNet, America's public safety network, improves connectivity for Navajo Nation first responders

July 14, 2022

Collaboration with Commnet Broadband helps advance public safety, improve connectivity for Tribal community

Navajo Nation first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications. FirstNet® is constructing new, purpose-built sites where first responders said they needed improved coverage. Plus, FirstNet and AT&T are collaborating with Commnet Broadband, NTUA, NTUA Wireless and the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to help build out additional Band 14 spectrum and AT&T commercial LTE spectrum bands across more than 100 sites.

These sites, installed across Navajo Nation’s 27,000 square miles, will help extend the FirstNet reach in the community, as well as improve the LTE broadband signal for residents. Chapter Houses, schools, medical centers, businesses and housing complexes will benefit from the new sites. Most towers are operational now with the final two expected to be operational by December 2022.“

This is a great collaboration that is increasing the telecommunications capabilities that our frontline warriors need to help respond to emergency situations on the Navajo Nation,” said Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation President. “The behind-the-scenes work and coordination has been tremendous and now we are seeing the real change that our communities will benefit from in terms of greater resources for first responders. This is Nation building and we look forward to constructing more infrastructure to improve the quality of life for our Navajo people. We welcome FirstNet to the great Navajo Nation.”

More than 20,500 agencies and organizations, accounting for 3.3 million connections nationwide1 are already getting the unique benefits of FirstNet. This includes truly dedicated coverage and capacity when they need it. Plus they get unique benefits like always-on priority and, for first responders, preemption capabilities, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities help fire, EMS, law enforcement save lives and protect their communities.

Why is this important?

FirstNet is built for all public safety. That means every first responder in the country – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural. By collaborating with local providers, we’re able to use existing infrastructure and benefit from the provider’s local, on-the-ground expertise and experience.

The collaboration with local providers is part of our FirstNet build-out strategy to quickly address rural coverage needs and extend the network’s reach, giving more of the public safety community access to their network. After all, emergencies don’t know zip codes.

“We are excited to work with AT&T to bring FirstNet coverage to the public safety officials of the Navajo Nation,” said Tom Guthrie, Commnet Broadband CEO. “In addition to expanding coverage in rural America for first responders with FirstNet, this initiative will allow AT&T to deliver quality mobile services to the Navajo people.”

Benefits to first responders

Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the federal government specifically for FirstNet. We view Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, we can clear this band – or lane –and lock it  just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. 

“The expansion of FirstNet coverage equips Tribal first responders serving the Navajo Nation with secure and dedicated connectivity when they need it – both in their daily operations and when emergencies arise,” said Angel Benally, Tribal Affairs Specialist, FirstNet Program at AT&T. 

“Navajo Nation emergency personnel have harnessed FirstNet during their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as supporting their communication during planned events ranging from the Navajo Nation Fair to First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s visit last spring,” she added. “The collaboration with small and rural telecom providers, including Commnet Wireless, has helped us further extend the reach of FirstNet in rural and tribal communities. As a result of this effective collaboration, we’re excited about the progress that’s occurred to build out FirstNet Band 14 and additional LTE spectrum to support first responders and the broader community on Navajo Nation.

And thanks to the unique qualities of Band 14, FirstNet is the only network where public safety can take advantage of the highest power class signaling available in the U.S. – FirstNet MegaRange™. It provides the greatest benefit in areas where data connectivity is traditionally unreliable, such as remote regions, rural areas and maritime environments. This means first responders can install specially designed FirstNet Ready® HPUE devices in their ambulances, squad cars, fire trucks and other vehicles and buildings to significantly increase their coverage area in remote locations.

Collaborating to expand FirstNet coverage

When Congress passed bipartisan legislation to create FirstNet, they recognized the critical importance of coverage in tribal, rural, and remote communities. In addition to building new, purpose-built FirstNet cell sites and deploying Band 14 spectrum on new and existing AT&T cell sites, the law directed the FirstNet network expansion to include collaboration with local service providers and use “cost-effective opportunities to speed deployment.”

“FirstNet is a dedicated broadband platform for public safety, by public safety,” said Jeremy Zollo, Chief Market Engagement Officer, FirstNet Authority. “We worked hand-in-hand with the Tribal public safety community to understand their needs for the network. And these network enhancements are a prime example of how that input and feedback is becoming reality. We look forward to supporting Navajo Nation first responders’ use of FirstNet to help them save lives and protect communities.”

This collaboration is helping to more quickly address rural coverage needs and expand the reach of FirstNet for the public safety community.

1 As of Q1 2022