Testing AT&T MegaRange High Power User Equipment
In 2021 the Center of Excellence (CoE) tested a new cellular capability available to the First Responders on the AT&T FirstNet® Network, namely High Power User Equipment (HPUE). Offered under the “MegaRange™” moniker, this is a high-power cellular modem that can be installed either as a fixed or semi-fixed installation or in a vehicle. The HPUE operates at high power on FirstNet Band 14 in low coverage situations and provides a data connection that can be used as a network connection.
The factor most often limiting cellular coverage in underserved areas is the Radio Frequency (Rf) signal traveling from the mobile device back to the tower. Standard mobile devices are limited to 23dBm (200mW) transmitted power due to potential interference with cellular systems, FCC regulations, and battery power/size (power class 3). While increasing the power of the mobile device has the potential to increase usable range and data rates by increasing the signal traveling back from the mobile device to the tower, increasing mobile device power is only viable in certain conditions. Specifically, higher power is only allowed on cellular Band 14. The HPUE devices tested here are classified as power class 1 and can operate up to 31dBm (1.25 W) on Band 14. Because Band 14 is prioritized for Public Safety, higher-power user equipment is allowed. Note: Band 14 does not currently provide 5G.
The HPUE is only available to first responders, only operates on high power in certain circumstances, and then only on Band 14. When to operate the HPUE at high power is determined automatically by the FirstNet system and is not under the control of the user. While this places limitations on HPUE, the CoE found that, for the right user, HPUE can provide a significant benefit. However, performance in urban or suburban areas with better coverage is sometimes not as expected.
The CoE can recommend the HPUE equipment for public safety practitioners who operate in rural areas with Band 14 coverage. The benefit was significant and measurable. The only caveat is that determining the actual value is very location dependent and cannot be easily determined with consumer equipment. The CoE may be able, on a limited basis, to help first responders in Colorado measure coverage in areas of interest.