Spotlight On: Communications Networks

July 10, 2020
A profile on four major players in the public safety communications marketplace: The First Responder Network Authority, FirstNet Built with AT&T, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.

Almost everything in modern policing hinges on communication. Whether you’re speaking with a person face to face, receiving updates from call centers over the land mobile radio in the patrol car, pressing the PTT on the lapel mic, making a call on a smartphone, or downloading data with the computer in your vehicle—it’s all communications. And it all just needs to work. As complicated as the technology is to send out voice and data, it is equally as complicated in the building of the network to ensure it works for law enforcement nationwide.

No matter the provider, your wireless devices are likely using the same cellular towers as everyone else. Where first responder communications stand out is the management of the network to make sure officers can receive the mission-critical data they need and connect the vital calls that need to happen.

We set out to try and get a picture of a few key players in the law enforcement communications marketplace. Use the links below for a "Spotlight On" article for each of their services.

The First Responder Network Authority

“So, what’s FirstNet?” You may have heard this on a tradeshow floor. You may have overheard it in the locker room. You may have even asked it yourself. Set to the most simplistic of explanations, the First Responder Network Authority is an organization established by congress that oversees the implementation of the FirstNet communications network built with AT&T. What the FirstNet Authority is not is the provider of the service.  

Jonathan Kozlowski, Officer Media Group Managing Editor, connected with Assistant Chief Harry Markley (ret.), and subject matter expert for FirstNet Law Enforcement. “We’re no more a vendor than the FBI is a vendor. We’re actually part of the federal government,” he says.

FirstNet Built with AT&T

AT&T and FirstNet often go hand-in-hand in conversations regarding public safety communications. Where AT&T makes the call connect, FirstNet makes sure it is working as first responders need it to be. Scott Agnew AT&T Assistant Vice President for FirstNet Products explains: “FirstNet Authority is responsible for the implementation, oversight of the contract that they have set forth and appropriately ensure the oversight that is set in contractual terms that the terms are being met for public safety. AT&T is the vendor that was chosen. We’re responsible for implementing the network, managing, deploying, and life-cycling the users.” 

To put it simply, there is a reason for the moniker “FirstNet built with AT&T.” AT&T’s technology applied to the FirstNet project is a dedicated network and dedicated core to—and exclusively for—first responders. Any commercial/consumer network falls under a separate core as AT&T’s Wireless Network.

U.S. Cellular

U.S. Cellular provides a comprehensive range of wireless products and services and a high-quality network to customers with 4.9 million connections in 21 states. Their public safety priority service is available across our network, including rural and remote areas. Solutions over LTE and 5G networks are available with data priority and preemption services to first responders. I connected with Jim Anetsberger, Vice President of Sales for the business channel at U.S. Cellular.


For over 20 years, Verizon has been supporting public safety with a well-known and trusted communications network. I spoke to Nick Nilan, Director of Public Sector Product Development at Verizon for some insight into their offerings and to help me understand the capabilities and available solutions. 

As one of the largest providers of public safety communications, Verizon’s network capabilities has grown substantially in the past couple of decades. According to Nilan, they’ve invested over $145 billion in the past 20 years to cover 327 million people. Ten years ago, their 4G LTE speeds were quoted at five to 12 (Mb) megabits per second with a two to five Mb per second on an uplink. “Now, customers are getting dozens or more—up to 100 Mb per second on downlink across the country,” he says.

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