DENVER – An AT&T, Inc., executive said today that he is not surprised by Verizon Communications, Inc.’s announcement that it plans to offer priority service and preemption to public safety customers while building a dedicated public safety core (TR Daily, Aug. 15). He also said that first responders will benefit from AT&T’s plan to use a variety of bands to best meet their needs and not just Band 14. In an interview this morning with TR Daily in conjunction with the APCO 2017 show here, Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president-FirstNet, was asked if he expects states to try to get better pricing, coverage, and other terms from AT&T, which is the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network partner, in light of the new competition from Verizon, which is seeking to match AT&T’s plan to offer priority access to opt-in states immediately and preemption by the end of this year while deploying a public safety core next year.
“I think regardless … of what Verizon announced, states are going to try and get good deals for themselves,” Mr. Sambar said. “That’s just human nature. So that’s not unexpected. And the fact that Verizon is going to be aggressive and try and keep their customers … is also not a surprise to us.”
But he added that some people “are probably a still little unclear as to what exactly they are going to be providing. I think we’ve been extremely clear on what we’re providing because it’s all contract-based.”
Mr. Sambar also responded to questions about AT&T’s plan for Band 14 in the wake of complaints from some in the public safety community and elsewhere that first responders did not fight for that band to be reallocated for public safety use only to have a commercial carrier decide to deploy it selectively.
He said AT&T plans to deploy Band 14 where AT&T needs it for capacity, but that the company will also rely on other spectrum in the 700 megahertz, 800 MHz, 1.9 gigahertz, and even millimeter-wave bands where it makes sense “because we want to give the user the best experience possible. Someone who only has the Band 14 spectrum can’t do that type of optimization. … FirstNet saw that as a tremendous win.”
He said he expects AT&T to deploy “a significant percent” of Band 14 over the next five years and the “vast majority” over the 25-year length of its contract with FirstNet.
“Users shouldn’t be worried what band they’re on,” Mr. Sambar added. “I always like to say … the magic of FirstNet doesn’t happen on Band 14, the magic of FirstNet happens in AT&T’s network. … So they should feel happy and comfortable in the fact that they have multiple bands to choose from on AT&T’s network and not just one.”
In a statement yesterday, AT&T said it will deploy “Band 14 where coverage and capacity are needed. We’re aggressively rolling out Band 14 — both on our existing network to add additional capacity to help meet public safety needs and in building new sites to cover areas that are today unserved or underserved.”
Mr. Sambar was also asked to address complaints from some state and public safety officials that they prefer Verizon’s network because of its superior coverage and reliability. “I’ve had this conversation in a number of states,” Mr. Sambar said. He said he urges state officials to give his company’s network a chance, citing improvements it has made in recent years.
“Verizon has had a strong share position in this market for a very long time because they’ve dedicated a lot of resources to it. AT&T has made significant improvements in our network over the past seven to 10 years, and we’re now ready to attack this market,” he said. “We’re going to put significant resources into the market. And we think we’ve got a very good story to tell. And a lot of these agencies, once they try AT&T, they’re going to be very pleased from what we have from a coverage standpoint. And then all of the features that we’re building on this FirstNet network, I think, [are] going to be really the icing on the cake that’s going to make them want to use AT&T.”
As for pricing, Mr. Sambar said, “I prefer to address value, and value is when you put it all together. … “You’ve got to have the whole package of value.” He acknowledged that because some of that value includes capabilities not yet deployed, such as a public safety apps store, getting people to sign up can be problematic at this point. “You’re promising future value, which is difficult sometimes,” he said. “We’re going to have to show them before they are going to buy. We understand that. So we have to perform. We have to get it right, and then they’ll come.”
Mr. Sambar also echoed a FirstNet statement in saying that opt-in letters of intent signed so far are binding.
Declan Ganley, executive chairman and co-chief executive officer of Rivada Networks LLC, which led a consortium that lost out to AT&T for the FirstNet contract, has said that “senior state officials in four different states had told us that their governors believe the letters of intent are nonbinding” (TR Daily, Aug. 14).
“The letters are binding. They’re very clear in the wording,” Mr. Sambar said today. He said that as opt-outs are announced, AT&T gets access to the spectrum licensed to FirstNet and a portion of the $6.5 billion designated for AT&T as part of the contract.
He also declined to predict how many more states or territories will opt in early in the coming weeks, saying, “I think you’ve seen the momentum over the past weeks, and I feel very good about that momentum.”
As to competition presented by Rivada, which is working to convince states to opt out and allow them to build their radio access networks (RANs), Mr. Sambar said, “There’s always noise out there, competitive noise, but we feel very comfortable on our value proposition, and we’re way ahead of schedule as far as early opt-ins are concerned.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org