Here’s what procurement officers need to keep in mind to ensure their department gets optimal FirstNet connectivity and capability

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Compared to Project 25 and other public safety communications advances, FirstNet represents a relatively low-cost, low-risk investment for law enforcement agencies. Yet there are points that procurement officers need to keep in mind, to ensure their department gets optimal FirstNet connectivity and capability.

Assuming they are compatible with the AT&T cellular network (since AT&T is the official carrier of FirstNet), most late-model smartphones can connect to FirstNet.

“If your Android or Apple iOS smartphone is 4G/LTE, then it will likely connect without issues to FirstNet via AT&T,” said FirstNet Senior Advisor Bill Schrier. “But older 3G or 2G phones won’t work.”

In the same vein, late-model rugged handhelds/ hotspot routers/trunk modems and laptops/tablets equipped with 4G/LTE wireless connectivity will work with FirstNet as well.

To make purchasing decisions easier, FirstNet has created a Phones & Devices web page that details which phones and devices are compatible with FirstNet via AT&T.

“On iPhone, you need iOS 12 or later,” said Schrier. “On Android, you’ll also need the latest OS.”

Windows won’t be a problem if you are running Windows 10, which is constantly being updated by Microsoft.

Although public safety subscribed to FirstNet can use the AT&T SIM card to access FirstNet services, it makes sense to swap this SIM for the FirstNet SIM card provided to all FirstNet subscribers.

“Even though AT&T does give FirstNet users priority and pre-emption on its other channels, using the FirstNet SIM Card also ensures that you get full access to all of FirstNet’s features,” Schrier said.

Having trouble setting up your devices? Call 1-800- 574-7000, the AT&T help line that is strictly limited to FirstNet customers. It is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

Before buying any wireless equipment to work with FirstNet, review the Phones & Devices web page first. Given the fast pace of equipment rollouts, there may be new devices listed that weren’t available when this article was written.

Do not try to “get by” with existing equipment that isn’t certified as FirstNet-capable, even if it seems to function on the network. You don’t want to discover that issues exist during a life-and-death situation – which is usually when technology problems occur.

Having a checklist of questions to ask during a tech consultation is key to ensuring the decisions you make will be beneficial for your agency in both the short and long term. 

From knowing which FirstNet rate plan works best for your agency to understanding potential rural coverage challenges to downloading the apps that will best serve your department’s needs, use this checklist to ensure an effective technology consultation.

The relative simplicity of the FirstNet system – at least when it comes to setup and equipment requirements – makes it possible for police departments to make their own purchasing decisions without third-party expert help.

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This said, adding complex components like a Mobile Device Management System (to centrally manage device configurations, apps and security authorisations) may necessitate third-party support.

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