AT&T’s FirstNet public safety network just received some upgrades that could make all the difference in certain emergencies. Most notably, the platform now includes vertical GPS support, or Z-Axis in AT&T-speak. It’s now possible to pinpoint the floor a first responder is on — crucial when you want to know if a firefighter has cleared a floor.
It should also be easier to communicate in the first place. There’s now interoperability between walkie-talkies (aka Land-Mobile Radios) and FirstNet’s LTE push-to-talk network, making it possible for someone on a phone to stay in touch when they’re outside of normal radio service. A “MegaRange” upgrade, meanwhile, uses higher-power signalling that improves coverage in tricky urban areas (think basements and parking garages) and rural areas where you might be on the network’s edge.
Safety agencies can also buy their own Cells on Wheels (COWs) to quickly connect to FirstNet by satellite in cases where a conventional link isn’t available, such as during a natural disaster.
Not all of this is available nationwide. Vertical GPS, for instance, is limited to about 105 markets that include cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. However, these improvements could be vital if they save time during rescues or keep emergency crews in touch when they’d otherwise be left in the dark.