FirstNet: All AT&T LTE bands to be available to public safety this year

police car

A month after AT&T was officially named the partner for FirstNet, the group’s CEO announced that all of AT&T’s LTE bands will be available for public safety use by the end of this year.

“One of the key benefits that this public-private partnership will make available to public safety is the availability of quality of service and priority access once a governor accepts the FirstNet State Plan (“opt in”), with preemption services expected to be made available on all AT&T LTE bands as soon as the end of this year,” Mike Poth, FirstNet CEO, wrote on the First Responder Network Authority’s website today. “These features will become available over existing AT&T LTE bands nationwide while FirstNet deploys Band 14 for public safety. This will dramatically increase the capacity available to public safety without having to wait for the availability of Band 14. It will provide first responders with unprecedented access to the Network when the need arises without impact or competition from commercial customers.”

That news will likely create a further incentive for the nation’s state governments to sign on to FirstNet’s plans to build a nationwide network for public-safety workers like police officers, firefighters and others. The “preemption” services on AT&T’s existing LTE network will ensure that communications from FirstNet’s public safety workers will be prioritized over the communications of other AT&T customers.

“Public safety agencies have been asking for priority and preemption over a broadband network for a long time, and we are excited to deliver on that promise to them. This is an example of how we can use AT&T’s expertise and infrastructure investments to provide immediate, significant benefits to public safety,” Poth noted.

Poth added that, during the past month, FirstNet and AT&T have been developing plans for the nation’s state governments to sign on to FirstNet’s efforts, as well as an online portal that will be used to deliver the plans to the states and territories. He said also said that FirstNet and AT&T, along with Motorola Solutions, General Dynamics, Sapient Consulting and Inmarsat Government, have had initial discussions regarding the FirstNet core network architecture.

For their part, AT&T executives during the company’s recent quarterly conference call that they expect most or all of the nation’s states to sign on to FirstNet’s plans, rather than build their own separate networks for public safety.

“One is, there is a collection of funding that's related to the contract winner, ourselves, with regard to setting some national standards, setting up portals and other abilities to communicate with FirstNet responders, to communicate with states, to set national standards of interoperability, and so forth. Those monies are committed to the award winner and not to the states. Secondly, if the states choose to go it alone, they take the risk of any project cost overruns,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said during the carrier’s earnings conference call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the discussion. “So we feel really good about the process and think that we are going to – we'll be very cooperative, we'll be very encouraging with the states to work with them, to make sure they feel comfortable. But our target is all 56 – 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia. We want to win them all, and that's our goal, so that's how we'll go about it.”

Stephens and other AT&T executives also argued that AT&T would be able to save money on its FirstNet 700 MHz Band 14 network buildouts costs by combining that effort with the rollout of the carrier’s WCS spectrum. However, Stephens noted that AT&T continues to expect that its capital spending guidance will be in the $22 billion range, “but with FirstNet it could be at the higher end of that $22 billion range,” he said.

FirstNet was created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when New York first responders were hampered by inoperable communication networks. FirstNet will partner with AT&T to build an LTE-based wireless network for public safety using AT&T’s existing LTE network alongside FirstNet’s 700 MHz spectrum.