March 31, 2017–LAS VEGAS – Representatives of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) yesterday touted the benefits to public safety of being able to access AT&T, Inc.’s commercial spectrum from the day a governor decides to allow the carrier to deploy a radio access network (RAN) in his or her state.
“We’re going to have available service with priority on Day 1 after [the] governor chooses to opt in for the nationwide network on all bands that AT&T has today for their commercial use,” FirstNet Chief Technology Officer Jeff Bratcher said during a session at the IWCE show here. “As they are adding Band 14 to that, they will also be adding the preemption capability on all those bands as well as Band 14 as it begins deployment.”
AT&T’s goal is to add preemption capability on all bands by the end of the year, and as it builds out Band 14, Mr. Bratcher added. The default band for public safety will be Band 14, he said. “We had no idea we were going to be able to jump-start that fast,” said FirstNet board member Kevin McGinnis, adding that instead of just getting access to the 20 MHz in Band 14, public safety will have access to 150 MHz in other AT&T bands as well.
“That is a huge thing for public safety,” added Harlin McEwen, the outgoing chairman of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee.
David Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, said his team plans to work closely with states as FirstNet and AT&T complete work on draft state plans to be released this summer and final state plans to be issued in the fall. He said that FirstNet expects to have as many engagements this year as during the last three years’ combined.
Bill Schrier, a senior FirstNet adviser, said, “This proposal is so good, and you’ll see it in the state plans, that no state will want to opt out.”
The panelists were asked to assess how good a job has been done so far in reaching out to public safety about FirstNet. “We haven’t reached every public safety agency,” Mr. Schrier said. “We’ve got a lot more stories to tell.” He said that he is looking for “unique capabilities” that will attract first responders to the network.
“We didn’t have the full story to tell” before yesterday’s announcement of AT&T as FirstNet’s partner, Mr. Bratcher said. Now stakeholders do, he said.
Mr. McEwen said that as he has traveled around the country, he has noticed that many more people in public safety seem to know about FirstNet than they did even two years ago. “We have come a long ways but … we have a long ways to go in educating people,” he said.
Red Grasso, deputy director of FirstNetNC in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, asked, “Now that an award has been made, how do we stick to our education and outreach mission and not let it become sales and marketing, particularly from a state employee perspective?”
“There is a certain amount of marketing to this,” Mr. McEwen replied, noting that even states that build their own RANs will benefit from the nationwide network.
Mr. McGinnis suggested the focus should be on education and not selling the network, although he repeatedly touted the benefits of AT&T as a partner during yesterday’s session. But he also said that he understands why states would issue RFPs (request for proposals) for alternative state plans to provide a comparison with FirstNet’s state plan. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” he said.
Mr. Bratcher said that kickoff meetings for FirstNet and AT&T teams have already begun on matters such as technical issues and state plans with more meetings scheduled for next week. He also said the first three task orders have been forwarded to AT&T. “We’re looking forward to developing that relationship. I’m satisfied with what we’ve seen so far,” Mr. Bratcher said. “But we’re going to be pushing them hard.”
“Right now, we have a contract. We haven’t formed a relationship,” Mr. McGinnis said. – Paul Kirby, email@example.com