The FirstNet market is growing rapidly—from $4 million in revenues from LTE devices in the U.S. public safety sector in 2016 to $205 million in 2021, IHS Markit predicts — and it’s radically different from other IoT markets in several important ways. The network itself is operated by AT&T-FirstNet for the first responder community and boasts an independent core network from other private broadband networks in the United States.
Designing an app or device capable of operating on FirstNet’s Band 14 frequency requires an understanding of not only the public safety sector and their unique needs but also how to create, test and certify cellular-based products and solutions.
Emergency medical teams, law enforcement officers, and firefighters are required to keep careful records of their decisions and movements and need instant access to accurate information in order to do their jobs effectively. Security and traceability features that might be optional in devices for other sectors are essential for first responders.
Here are a few key questions to ask as you design your device or app for FirstNet:
Is it Secure?
Security is top priority for first responders, who must comply with a variety of local, state and federal security requirements because of their access to medical records, the criminal justice system, and other secure data. FirstNet network architects place a high value on security and have built in a multi-layered defense system against cyber-attacks, including data encryption, firewalls, and private network connections.
Familiarize yourself with the security requirements of your target market and ask experts in the field for input and ideas about how to comply.
Is it Reliable?
This might seem an obvious point, because reliability should be a priority for any app or device. But because first responders deal with life and death situations, the tools they use must be proven to a higher standard of reliability.
“We call it being mission critical,” says Richard Mirgon, vice president of the FirstNet Association, an organization focused on ensuring the success of the FirstNet ecosystem. “When you’re in the process of rescuing somebody or providing medical support, having an app fail is highly problematic.”
Make arrangements to run your device through extensive reliability testing in a variety of situations, physical locations, and weather conditions. Keep in mind that first responders must often work 10 to12-hour shifts, so make sure your device has the battery power to last that long, and that your app doesn’t quickly deplete the battery on the responder’s cellular device.
Is it Traceable?
Accountability to the public is a high priority.
“Everything we do as first responders has to be documented and traceable,” Mirgon says. “When you’re responding to an incident, you have to be able to show why you took action, where your information came from, and why and how you used it.”
For example, if an emergency medical responder recommends a prescription drug dosage, an explanation must be documented in case anything goes wrong. To address this need, create your app or device with the built-in ability to save all collected data in a way that’s simple to access and interpret, and program your product to back up data frequently to the cloud or another appropriate storage device.
Once you’ve designed and tested your device or app, it’s time to apply for certification. All FirstNet products must undergo intensive testing, particularly with regards to security and network stability. For your devices you must start with a FirstNet-certified cellular module to be able to get it provisioned on the network. That also ensures you’ll start out with a robust, secure internal network connection and save yourself some of the heavy lifting involved in the certification process.