US operator AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) have announced a ten-year, $8 billion investment to expand and upgrade the nationwide public safety network.

FirstNet will invest $6.3 billion through its network contract with AT&T and "anticipates an additional $2 billion" for ongoing investments in coverage enhancements for public safety.

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FirstNet is a network built to support America’s first responders and the extended public safety community.

According to AT&T, the next phase of FirstNet will include the addition of 1,000 purpose-built FirstNet cell sites within the next two years.

The next phase will also create a 5G Standalone (5G SA) core, which will enhance current 5G functionality with specific public safety features on FirstNet and support the transition of public safety’s Band 14 spectrum from LTE to 5G.

AT&T did note that it will keep the existing 4G network active during the transition process to 5G, though its need for 5G will be essential in order to provide more enhanced services.

On top of this, the investment will support the expansion of mission-critical services, including voice, video, data, and location.

Starting in March, FirstNet will provide first responders with “always-on priority and pre-emption” across all of AT&T's commercial 5G spectrum bands.

"Our partnership with the federal government has given us the distinct privilege of delivering America's public safety network. FirstNet is critical infrastructure that is reliably connecting those who tirelessly protect and serve," said Jim Bugel, president of FirstNet, AT&T.

"With 5G, public safety will unlock new and innovative tools to keep them mission-ready — and we aren't stopping there. Together with the FirstNet Authority, we will continue to expand and enhance public safety’s network based on their feedback, giving them the solutions and connectivity they need, both now and in the future."

At present, FirstNet serves more than 5.5 million connections and about 27,500 public safety agencies and organizations.

Its origins trace back to a shared vision of Congress and the first responder community following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The FirstNet Authority has a legislative mandate that requires it to invest program-generated funds back into the network.