Emergency crews and first responders make use of wireless networking more than enough to warrant a separate network just for them, and AT&T has won the federal contract to build out just such a network in the United States, known as FirstNet. The aim of such a move is not just to fight the network congestion that could jeopardize communications during critial operations, of course; emergency responders on the FirstNet network will all be using the same equipment, operating on the same protocols and frequencies, making interoperability a guarantee and interdepartmental communication as effortless and stable as possible.
AT&T, for their part, will be building out the network nationwide, with payouts totaling $6.5 billion earmarked for them over the next five years, based on their success in implementing the network. FirstNet, an arm of the US federal government, will immediately hand AT&T all of the licenses, spectrum, and permits that they will need. AT&T will reportedly begin work on the FirstNet network later this year. When all is said and done, AT&T is projected to spend around $40 billion over the course of a 25 year agreement. That money will go not only into building the network, but also maintaining and operating it, including paying employees, maintaining network equipment, and paying for the massive nationwide buildout, which will run completely separate from all other wireless networks currently on US airwaves, including AT&T's own wireless service. The goal of the rollout is to fully cover all 50 US states, as well as the District of Columbia, and five US territories outside of the geographical purview of North America, Alaska, and Hawaii.
The call to create such a network is one that has been going up since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, but one that has gone largely unanswered until now, mainly for lack of sufficient technology to build out a reliable, full-coverage network that could handle all of the sorts of emergency communications and network resource needs that first responders nationwide would stand to generate. First responders at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, experienced a large number of difficulties with communications, mostly due to them all using different equipment on different networks, leading to compatibility issues.