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The First Responder Network Authority Technology Domain: User Experience

July 2, 2020

This is the sixth entry in a blog series that will explore the six FirstNet Authority Roadmap domains. You can also learn about: the CoreCoverage and Capacity, Situational Awareness, Voice Communications, and Secure Information Exchange. Download the full Roadmap at

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) understands that an intuitively designed user experience on FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network, requires a deep understanding of public safety’s interaction with the network through devices and applications as well as their priorities and expectations of the network’s value and functionality.

At the core of creating a successful user experience, first responders must interact with the FirstNet network in a positive and meaningful way. By engaging in active and ongoing discussions with first responders, the FirstNet Authority has brought the voice of the public safety community into our user experience planning process, and we are now better positioned to improve the quality of the user’s interaction with the network.

The FirstNet User Experience

Last year, the FirstNet Authority developed the FirstNet Roadmap with input from public safety, industry, government, and its partner AT&T to guide the growth and evolution of FirstNet over the next five years. Using feedback from more than 600 engagements, the FirstNet Authority gained a better understanding of public safety’s operational needs and technology uses for mobile broadband communications. This input helped us to identify public safety’s most important network capabilities and served as the basis for the Roadmap’s six technology domains, including the User Experience domain.

The User Experience domain is composed of various technology areas important to public safety including: priority services, applications, devices, accessories, hands-free operations, augmented or virtual reality, and heads-up display.

“The User Experience domain is unique because it has the most direct impact on the individual subscriber of all the domains,” said Tim Pierce, Senior Public Safety Advisor and 14 year veteran of public safety. “This not only includes the devices and applications that public safety is using on a daily basis but also other capabilities such as augmented reality. We’ve already seen innovation from industry enhance the user experience for FirstNet users and will continue to see new products come to market to solve public safety challenges that arise over time.”

The User Experience domain is also guided by three key areas based on public safety feedback. These include: 

  • Successful deployment of priority services on Band 14.
  • User interfaces that are tailored to and evolve with public safety’s needs.
  • Development of new applications tailored to public safety’s needs that brings valuable operational benefits.

Based on this feedback, the FirstNet Authority developed three priorities for the User Experience domain. These priorities will ensure that the FirstNet solution will continue to deliver and advance emergency communications services that improve upon the user experience. These priorities include:

Priority 1. Priority Service: Improve the performance and efficacy of priority services through evaluation in real-world deployments, development of case studies, and analysis of performance with AT&T.

Priority 2. Applications: Advocate for the development and use of public safety applications that are operationally sound, offer intuitive user interfaces, and interoperable collaboration.

Priority 3. Devices: Advocate for the development and use of devices that support public safety operations, including specialized devices.

As part of the Roadmap strategy, the FirstNet Authority has continued to meet with public safety stakeholders about the User Experience domain. From October 2019 to May 2020, the FirstNet Authority team conducted 790 engagements. Of those, 48 percent (383 engagements) addressed User Experience in some form during the engagement. Public safety stakeholders participate in these sessions to discuss their needs, receive feedback from our public safety experts, and contribute to FirstNet’s future.

FirstNet in Action – Interacting with the FirstNet network in a positive and meaningful way

With every connection, the FirstNet solution is in place to ensure that public safety agencies are well equipped with the proper devices and applications and connected to network services and capabilities. 

For the Canton Fire Department in Massachusetts, local firefighters experienced the benefits of using FirstNet devices and apps when it recently migrated to FirstNet. For Fire Chief Charles Doody, the transition from portable radios to FirstNet devices helped to immediately bolster communications for his team of 54 firefighters who are now able to utilize the FirstNet network inside buildings or use push-to-talk mobile apps to connect to their team’s land mobile radios. “It was amazing they could be in a building and pull up their land mobile radios [on a push-to-talk mobile app] and be able to communicate clearly right back to fire alarm where they can’t do that with a portable radio. So, initially, that’s going to fill that gap for us,” Chief Doody recounted.

Similarly, during last year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and football game in Ohio, the Canton Police Department, Stark County Sheriff’s Office, and other first responders relied on FirstNet for priority service to evacuate nearly 30,000 visitors from the stadium. When the commercial networks were overloaded, FirstNet’s prioritized service helped first responders bypass congestion and safely evacuate the crowd.

“There was no way we could get on the public sector broadband to communicate, and we were able to seamlessly communicate with each other with our FirstNet Band 14 communication,” said Sheriff George Maier, Stark County Sheriff’s Office.  When it comes to coverage and knowing their officers will be able to connect during daily operations and large-scale events, Maier says FirstNet is a ‘significant’ tool for his first responders. 

On the horizon for FirstNet’s User Experience

Already FirstNet is offering a wide-range of network services and capabilities to meet and support first responder emergency communication needs. With FirstNet’s prioritized service, secure network capabilities, local control, and the recently announced FirstNet Push-to-Talk services, these features, capabilities, and service work in tandem to create a refined FirstNet experience for each public safety agency. And yet, even with these innovative FirstNet offerings, the FirstNet Authority is always on the lookout for opportunities to ensure the public safety user experience will continue to improve and interact with the network in a positive way.  

With this goal in mind, each year our team participates in innovative conferences and workshops exhibiting 5G technology, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence solutions for example. As these tools enter the marketplace for commercial use, we consider the possibilities of cultivating these same technologies for first responder use and improve the overall user experience over FirstNet.

In other ways, the FirstNet Authority has supported challenges and prize competitions that reward innovative ideas that use technology to tackle the challenges that first responders face. Most recently, the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) launched the CHARIot Challenge aimed to leverage augmented reality (AR) solutions and IoT data to help public safety officials respond more effectively and efficiently. Partnerships like these are one way for the FirstNet Authority to stay plugged into the broader innovation community.

The Path Ahead

The FirstNet Authority is dedicated to its vision of creating a differentiated broadband user experience to help public safety save lives and protect communities – and the User Experience domain is the centerpiece of our activity. Looking ahead, the FirstNet Authority will continue developing our engagement programs for public safety agencies across the country to influence the experience of FirstNet’s current and future users.

If you have input on targeted outcomes for the Roadmap or public safety innovations to help you and your agency’s operations, reach out to your Public Safety Advisor to schedule a meeting or learn how to engage with the FirstNet Authority.

For more information on the User Experience domain, including key technology areas, and its relation to the other five Roadmap domains, visit

Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates. 

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