AT&T CFO says operator is well positioned for FirstNet contract

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AT&T is well positioned to succeed as part of its bid for FirstNet’s business, and it’s working hard to satisfy all the requirements of the bid, the winners of which FirstNet expects to announce by November.

Speaking at the Oppenheimer 19th Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference in Boston this week, AT&T CFO John Stephens said the company has been keeping a “very careful” profile out of respect for the government procurement rules and regulations. Still, he said the company is "very interested, we think it’s a unique opportunity and we’ll work very hard to be in a position to get the best consideration for success.”

The capabilities of providing pre-emption and priority for certain users of AT&T’s network already exist in the software that is deployed in networks today. “Those capabilities are out there today and those are normal discussion issues we have with all of our customers on a regular basis,” he said.

 In June, Stephens said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call that AT&T had submitted a bid for the FirstNet business, something AT&T's senior EVP of Technology and Operations John Donovan telegraphed that it had planned to do as it viewed it as a "rare event" and one the operator would pursue aggressively.

While it’s unknown how many entities bid for the business, pdvWireless and Rivada Mercury represent at least two other entities that have made their intentions public. Rivada’s team includes Ericsson, Nokia, Intel Security and others that want a chance to provide the nationwide LTE network dedicated to public safety. PdvWireless is headed by wireless industry veterans Brian McAuley and Morgan O'Brien, who were instrumental in creating Nextel Communications and getting it off the ground.

Whoever wins FirstNet's business will get a 25-year contract to use 20 megahertz of 700 MHz beachfront spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities. It will also retain the right to sell excess capacity on the system, so the ability to reliably prioritize access for public safety users will be paramount.

Verizon has remained mostly mum on the subject, but analysts at Evercore ISI have pegged Verizon as being particularly well-suited to take on FirstNet, where Verizon's existing 700 MHz spectrum is compatible with the public safety network's upper 700 MHz block spectrum.

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