When disaster strikes, everybody reaches for their phones. And when a disaster is large scale, the massive increase in cell phone use can jam the cellular networks needed for communication with police, fire departments and other first responders. The solution to this situation is FirstNet®.
FirstNet is a nationwide wireless network that is designed to deliver priority, pre-emptive communications for first responders and those responsible for critical infrastructure any time a large-scale public emergency, such as a hurricane, wildfire or other event affects an entire city or region. FirstNet ensures critical voice, text and data communications when a spike in civilian cell phone use could jam cellular networks, preventing dispatchers and first responders from communicating quickly and effectively.
This critical network supports not only first responders, but all important enterprises and services that are needed in an emergency, from wastewater management to security services. Called “Extended Primary” services, organizations in this category can also purchase FirstNet Ready™ devices like Digi WR54, and make use of the FirstNet network for critical communications.
FirstNet and Band 14 Wireless Spectrum
The need for a single, interoperable public safety network with dedicated spectrum was first recognized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when first responders found it difficult to communicate on the congested cellphone network.
Congress created the First Responder Network Authority and set aside 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band, known as Band 14, to ensure vital communications during a disaster. This low-band spectrum was chosen because it offers several advantages, including the ability to penetrate walls and other obstacles, helping to ensure excellent coverage.
FirstNet operates as a public-private collaboration between the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T. In the event of an emergency, FirstNet users have priority over non-FirstNet users and, if necessary, all commercial traffic will be dropped and the network will be dedicated exclusively to first responders, as well as to the “Extended Primary” group as bandwidth allows. During a crisis, a normal cellphone might stop working, but FirstNet-enabled devices will continue to work.
How FirstNet Supports “Extended Primary Users”
Initially designed exclusively for the “primary” category of public safety entities such as police, fire, ambulance and EMTs, many other organizations and services—as well as critical infrastructure—are often needed during emergencies and in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. For that reason, FirstNet was extended to a second tier of “Extended Primary Users.”
Extended Primary Users include both public and private organizations in categories such as:
- Electric utilities and power grid infrastructure
- Telecommunication services
- Hospitals and medical facilities
- Water supply and wastewater treatment plants
- Transportation systems including airports, commuter rail and public transit
To ensure that this diverse group of users has the interoperability they need, FirstNet supports a wide variety of approved FirstNet Ready™ devices, including Android®, and Apple® iOS smartphones, feature phones, and data-only devices, such as tablets, laptops, aircards, netbooks and mobile hotspot devices.
Digi WR54—the FirstNet Ready™ Cellular Router for Critical Connectivity
In addition to phones in the hands of individual users, FirstNet also depends on a wide range of other devices and accessories to provide the communications backbone that ensures people and infrastructure can remain connected in an emergency. That includes the FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 Cellular Router.
Digi WR54 is designed to meet the cellular connectivity challenges of applications where high availability, high reliability and fault tolerance are imperative. With a MIL-SPEC certified design for durability, the Digi WR54 has received the prestigious FirstNet Ready™ approval for use on the FirstNet communications platform and is tested and certified (SAE J1455, MILSTD-810G and IP-54 rated) to withstand water, heat, dust, vibration and other environmental challenges that often exist in emergency response situations.
Digi WR54 supports multiple connectivity requirements simultaneously. It can maintain the fastest connections with the highest availability, even in areas with marginal cellular coverage. With optional dual-cellular radios for continuous connectivity between carriers, public safety communications can never go down. If the primary cellular carrier drops out, dual-LTE Digi WR54 models automatically switch over to the secondary carrier.
Digi WR54 offers:
- FirstNet Ready™ certified
- Single or dual concurrent 4G LTE Advanced CAT 12 cellular up to 600 Mbps per modem
- High performance 867 Mbps Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Gigabit Ethernet switch (4-port), GNSS
- Rugged MIL-STD-810G rating and extended NEMA TS2 temperature range
- Future-built, dual-core 880 MHz processor
- Expandable through USB and Serial ports
- Cryptographic co-processor with secure key generation and storage
- Edge computing capabilities, using Python for quick adaptation to evolving system requirements
In addition, built-in Digi TrustFence® security simplifies the process of securing connected devices with full encryption of data over FirstNet, and continuously adapts to new and evolving cyber threats. Digi Remote Manager®, a secure, web-based management application, also lets users monitor the performance and status of their deployed devices from a centralized location.
Digi — Your Partner for FirstNet
Digi has been serving public safety users as well as utilities, transit systems and other critical infrastructure entities for decades. We have the knowledge, teams and technology to improve your city’s or your region’s disaster preparedness with FirstNet Ready™ devices and solutions. Contact us to learn more about how these systems can help you get ready and stay ready — just in case disaster strikes.