DENVER – Verizon Communications, Inc., plans to offer priority service and preemption to public safety customers, and it also plans to build a dedicated public safety core, matching AT&T, Inc.’s offer as the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network partner. The development could provide substantial competition to AT&T as it works to sign up users for the nationwide public safety broadband network. Verizon already has a dominant share of the public safety market, and some first responders have been reluctant to opt-in to FirstNet due to what some say is Verizon’s superior network.
“We’re making an investment in the public safety officials that keep our cities, communities and neighbors safe,” said John Stratton, Verizon’s executive vice president and president-global operations, in a news release to be issued tomorrow morning. “Support for public safety is in our company’s DNA and our commitment to them never waivers.”
“We’re making the investments necessary to give public safety access to the best possible network coverage, reliability and capability, when and where they need it,” said Michael Maiorana, senior vice president-public sector for Verizon. “Our public safety network will provide a comprehensive and cost-effective solution for public safety, and we’ll continue working to offer first responders the network reliability and access to innovative services they need to keep our communities safe.”
The news release noted that “Verizon’s public safety network solution does not require that states opt-out of FirstNet, does not require access to any federal funding provided to FirstNet, and does not require any financial commitment from states to support network deployment. The creation of this dedicated public safety network core will be fully funded by Verizon. We will also make available multi-band devices that will provide access to Band 14 spectrum and enable full interoperability with any Band 14 radio access networks (RANs) deployed by FirstNet.”
“Our wireless priority service is available today,” the carrier says in an FAQ document on its public safety offering. “In addition, we have begun offering wireless priority service for Voice over LTE, and we will also offer preemption services by the end of the year. These services will be provided at no cost to public safety customers.”
AT&T is offering first responders in opt-in states immediate priority access to all of its LTE bands and preemption by the end of the year. It also is building a dedicated FirstNet core. It says it will build out Band 14 as needed for capacity.
The Verizon news release also says the carrier plans to “[i]nvest in new mission-critical 4G LTE voice communications to complement existing services such as Push-to-Talk Plus. PTT Plus already includes interoperability with existing Land Mobile Radio networks.”
The Verizon FAQ document also notes that just because a state opts in to FirstNet doesn’t mean first responders in the state have to sign up for AT&T’s service. “There is no mandate for any agency to adopt the AT&T FirstNet network,” it said. Verizon also says that it has “43 dedicated crisis response teams nationwide that provide coordinated action and support during natural disasters and emergencies — to Verizon and non-Verizon customers. We have hundreds of deployable assets, and our business continuity is second to none.”
AT&T has more than 500 deployables and has committed to dedicating 72 more for FirstNet customers. Verizon’s announcement to go head to head with AT&T is not surprising. The carrier has worked in the past to ensure that it didn’t lose public safety subscribers, including by lowering fees in some areas.
The Verizon FAQ document also says that Verizon is “developing wireless network innovations—such as drone-deployed LTE service — to expand coverage and provide network continuity following a disaster.”
FirstNet officials were asked to comment at the APCO 2017 show here today on the prospect of Verizon making an announcement to compete with FirstNet. “From the very beginning, we welcomed people participating in the process,” said FirstNet board Chairwoman Sue Swenson. But she added that FirstNet wants to make sure that states, in deciding whether or not to opt in to FirstNet, “have all the information about what the value proposition is. And so I think it’s really important to look at it [in] its totality. And it doesn’t mean that there won’t be some comparable things out there in terms of, you know, some basic fundamental offering. But I think it’s really important that we look at the entire picture. That’s why I talked about the importance of the FirstNet organization holding … AT&T accountable to make sure that they actually deliver what they’re supposed to, [and] making sure that this network and its offerings continue to evolve.”
In response to Verizon’s planned announcement, an AT&T spokesperson said late today, “What we’re offering to public safety through our private-public partnership will be fundamentally different from anything they’ve previously been offered in the marketplace. FirstNet is bringing public safety a superior network and ecosystem with specialized features, including increased coverage and capacity along with priority and preemption, so first responder subscribers can be confident that the network will be there when and where they need it – 24/7/365, like their mission.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org