Survivalism & Self Sufficiency Topics > Communications

AT&T Firstnet


I have an opportunity to get my personal phone on AT&T's FirstNet system.  Anyone have any pros/cons or experience with this?  Being able to have guaranteed priority and preemption on texts, calls and data sounds like a plus in situations where the normal bandwidth becomes over loaded.

Unless you're a first responder, I don't think that's how it works.  The intent of the system is to build a parallel wireless platform that gives priority to first responders and agencies in times of heavy demand for comms.  As part of the deal, AT&T gets to sell excess bandwidth on the system to the public, but the public side can be shut off at the flip of a switch.  At least that's how the Firstnet folks explained it in the meetings I went to a while back.

Delta Bravo-15:
CharlieFoxtrot, if you're already on AT&T and you're satisfied with that level of service, or if you're not currently an AT&T customer, but you know for a fact they have good coverage where you live, then you won't lose anything by switching your account from a regular consumer account to a self-paid FirstNet account.  A couple years ago, the agency  I was with at the time offered to get volunteers set up for self-paid FirstNet accounts.  Several of my friends switched to it, and the service was no better or worse than a consumer AT&T account, but the price was lower.  I have my doubts about how they've implemented data prioritization, at least during normal times.  During high-use times, we didn't see a difference in terms of data speed between a FirstNet account and a consumer AT&T account.  I've never been around during a time when the tower was overloaded with voice calls, so I can't speak directly to that.  Calls and SMS may be different.  It's also possible they have to manually activate something for the prioritization to kick in.  We just never noticed it in the aftermath the of two hurricanes we responded to.

It's all about where you operate.  In the rural area where I live, AT&T has significantly worse coverage than Verizon, so switching was never a viable option for me.  That was also the case for one of the two hurricane-relief deployments we had.  Poor AT&T/FirstNet coverage in the area meant those guys counldn't use their phones, while Verizon customers could.  It could have just as easily been the the other way around though, if we were sent to an area with good AT&T coverage and poor Verizion coverage.

Scoob, I agree that the intent was to build a parallel network for first responders, and we got the same talk from the FirstNet sales reps in our meetings.  In practice though, the only difference I've seen between FirstNet and consumer AT&T accounts was that FirstNet users did not have data caps, but data did appear to slow down when there was high demand.  All of the networks now offer "unlimited" data plans, so until I see the consumer side get turned off and the FirstNet side keep working, I'm skeptical that they're treated any differently.  Keep in mind, I live in a rural area, so if someone in an urban center has experience with FirstNet, please chime in.

If this phone will be your daily driver, definitely stick with the phone you've got now, or get a FirstNet iPhone.  I will say that the FirstNet specific phones with the built-in PTT buttons, were clearly designed as a replacement for a handheld radio.  While they are rugged, waterproof, and loud, they were complete garbage as a daily-use smartphone.  The processor was too slow for any apps to be used without getting frustrated.  You could tap on an icon, and pour a cup of coffee while you waited for the app to launch.  During one hurricane response, our guys were trying to send pictures of the damage back to our TOC.  They could press the shutter button and count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, click.  Maybe they've come out with something better in the last year or so, but remember, if a ruggedized, waterproof, extra-loud phone costs the same amount as the current consumer smartphones, they had to save that cost somewhere else.

Glad you're here, Delta. Thanks for replying... interesting to get your viewpoint...


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