FirstNet, the first responder network prioritization service being built out by major carrier AT&T, has rolled out a unique new feature that it dubs "ruthless preemption," which essentially means that first responders, even when off-duty, will automatically have access to priority networking, even when networks are experiencing massive congestion in the area. It gives FirstNet the ability to dip into adjacent network frequencies, and moves normal traffic over to another line to make room. If local networks are filled to capacity and there's no way to move normal traffic aside, it will be delayed to allow traffic from FirstNet to get through. This feature gives FirstNet a leg up on competitors like Verizon and Rivada Networks, whose systems currently lack any sort of equivalent feature.
The new feature works across all types of network activity, including voice, SMS, and data. It's made possible through deployment of Band 14, a reserve spectrum band of sorts that AT&T has deployed in a limited fashion in states that have opted into FirstNet. Band 14 is not as robust as other LTE networking solutions, but boasts high range, penetration, and capacity. This makes it a perfect candidate to move normal network traffic out of first responders' way, and in a pinch, makes a good space on the network to dedicate to first responders.
FirstNet has not entirely dominated its space yet, but it's hoping that this move will help push things in that direction. New Hampshire recently became the first state to fully opt out of FirstNet, saying that it would instead seek similar services from Rivada Networks. In California, meanwhile, no final decision has been made. The state has been actively soliciting offers for alternatives to a FirstNet deployment, but major player Verizon decided against making an offer, leaving the state to either choose between Rivada Networks and FirstNet, or wait until the last minute for an alternative. Whatever California and other undecided states plan to do, they only have until December 28 to do it; at that point, open enrollment for FirstNet is over, and states are required to have either signed up for FirstNet, or be working on a robust and cross-compatible alternative that would offer a similar level of service for first responders.