Verizon Frontline Overview

Verizon has recently introduced their dedicated broadband, wireless network solutions for first responders, ensuring reliable communications during emergencies and disasters big and small. Verizon Frontline is advertised as the “advanced network and technology for first responders”. Let’s take a deep dive into the Frontline ecosystem – what it is, how it works, and what kinds of programs, plans, and devices are available.

Some Quick Background

Public safety organizations and associations advocated before Congress for a dedicated, reliable wireless network for first responders. Their advocacy efforts led to the passage of legislation in 2012 to create the First Responder Network Authority to deploy the FirstNet network in all U.S. states and territories, including rural communities and tribal nations. FirstNet is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Authorized by Congress in 2012, its mission is to develop, build and operate the nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities. The First Responder Network Authority decided to partner with AT&T, who would be responsible for actually building out the network, as well as deployment and general operation.

Several months ago, we did a detailed blog where we discussed the First Responder Network Authority and their public-private partnership with AT&T to develop FirstNet. For more background information and technical details about FirstNet, including AT&T’s extensive support and commitment to the FirstNet network, click here.

Verizon FrontLine

Verizon claims to put first responders first by:

  • Creating custom safety plans for first responders that include priority and preemption, regardless of data usage.
  • Developing an interoperable network that ensures high quality of service and seamless sharing of information between agencies and departments, even between different carrier networks.
  • During congested periods, non-public safety traffic can be removed from the network, leaving the bandwidth and resources necessary for first responders to do their jobs.

Verizon also boasts of excellent support and capabilities when the worst disasters hit, including:

  • A Verizon “Response Team” that is available 24/7 to help coordinate with local emergency officials.
  • Strategic placement of mobile cell sites, including Cells on Wheels (COWs) and Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs), ensure connectivity even when physical sites are damaged or inoperable.
  • Backup generators, HVAC, and fiber rings at cell sites and switching centers maintain connectivity even when the power goes out for everyone else.
  • Network structures in hurricane-prone areas are built to withstand category 5 storms.
  • Prearranged fuel deliveries with tankers poised and ready to respond in case commercial power goes down.

The Verizon Response Team support also includes:

  • Nationwide 24/7 hot-line: 800.981.9558
  • Loaner phones and data devices
  • Enterprise-grade 4G LTE routers with directional antenna solutions
  • Mobile communication equipment, Cells on Wheels, Cells on Light Trucks and Satellite Picocell on Trailer
  • Emergency communication and charging centers
  • Pre-event planning and site assessments
  • Verizon Security Assistance Team support – missing persons/search and rescue
  • Licensed Drone Programs across the U.S. that provides situational awareness during an event.

And Verizon’s Frontline and Response Team had a busy year in 2020:

  • Over 2000 customer engagements
  • Over 1200 Response Team deployments
  • Over 6000 devices supporting agencies nationally

Verizon FrontLine Programs

Verizon offers two priority services for eligible first responders’ personal wireless devices, at no additional cost. Whether full-time, part-time, or volunteer, the following groups are eligible for these services:

  • Fire departments
  • Law enforcement
  • Emergency medical services
  • Emergency operations centers, including Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP)

The two priority services are:

  • Verizon Mobile Broadband Priority (MBP)
    • Provides priority network access to Verizon’s 4G LTE data network.
    • Ideal for select devices primarily used for data (e.g., smartphones, tablets, MiFi, routers)
    • Works over a Verizon Wireless network connection on select mobile devices.
    • Gives you higher-priority network access over other users.
  • Wireless Priority Service (WPS)
    • This Department of Homeland Security program provides end-to-end voice priority access to Verizon’s leading network during times of national security, emergency preparedness and wireless network congestion.
    • Ideal for select devices primarily used for voice (e.g., smartphones, basic phones).
    • Always on for priority access to Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
    • Easy to use by dialing *272 plus the 10-digit number.
    • Must be approved by Department of Homeland Security.

Note that wireless devices cannot be provisioned with both WPS and MBP. Only one priority service per device may be requested.

Verizon FrontLine Public Sector Devices

Verizon also offers a handful of devices, intended for public sector employees. Note that to get these deals you must contact Verizon and verify eligibility.

These devices come in 3 categories:

  • Virtual Learning (no prices displayed)
    • Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L
    • Verizon Orbic Speed Mobile Hotspot
    • CTL Chromebook NL71CT-L
    • Apple iPad 8th Generation
  • Smartphones and Rugged Devices
    • Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro for $0
    • iPhone 11 64GB for $99
    • Kyocera DuraForce Pro 2 for $0
  • 5G Devices
    • Samsung Galaxy S21 5G 128GB for $49.99

Other devices are available as well.

Verizon FrontLine Success Stories

There are many examples (on Verizon’s website) of FrontLine and the Response Team supporting first responders when dealing with various disasters and emergencies, including the Covid-19 pandemic, wildfires, and storms.

In a recent news brief from just last month, Verizon discusses their FrontLine support for first responders battling Colorado wildfires. FrontLine technology has been delivered to 10 locations in Colorado by the Verizon Response Team (VRT) to help enable mission-critical communications in remote areas as first responders battle wildfires throughout the state. The VRT is supporting interagency wildland fire management teams in their efforts to combat the Muddy Slide, West, and Sylvan fires.

Read the complete news brief Verizon Frontline supports first responders battling Colorado wildfires.

How Does Verizon FrontLine Compare with AT&T FirstNet?

These are two very different animals, even though they are both fundamentally concerned with providing first responders with a ruggedized wireless infrastructure that can maintain broadband connectivity even during national disasters and emergencies.

Remember that FirstNet is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its sole mission is “to develop, build and operate the nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities.” It also has committed billions of dollars towards this effort and has partnered with AT&T to buildout and operate the network. FirstNet also has access to government controlled frequency bands, including Band 14 – a nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet.

So Verizon developing FrontLine along with their Response Team is certainly a necessary move by Verizon to try and maintain their first responder and public safety customers. But without access to public/government funding and extremely valuable government-owned spectrum, Verizon can’t really compete directly with FirstNet and AT&T in the development of a truly dedicated first responder network and its associated ecosystem of devices, accessories, and apps. In particular, the FirstNet website has a much wider selection for any type of device or accessory – smart phones, tablets and laptops, smart devices, in-vehicle routers, gateways, hotspots, headsets, chargers, vehicle mounts, and more. The available devices from Verizon seem limited to the short lists discussed earlier, with only a few models listed.

Similarly, hundreds of apps are available from FirstNet that have either been developed specifically for FirstNet, or have been tested and verified to be reliable by FirstNet/ATT. While Verizon provides a link for their App Portal to “discover mobile applications for emergency management and operational support”, the link takes you to a Verizon login page for existing customers. Not very helpful for someone just wanting to browse the available apps.

So while FirstNet and ATT appears to be a fuller and more organic (bottom-up) complete ecosystem to support first responders, Verizon FrontLine and Response Team are still impressive tools and provide critical capabilities for the first responder community.

 

Rob Stone, Mushroom Networks, Inc. 

Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.

https://www.mushroomnetworks.com

 

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