AT&T in ‘good place’ to compete for FirstNet: CEO

"We need to bring 5G forward," said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at the UBS investor conference.

AT&T feels like it’s in a good place in terms of competing for the FirstNet business—one that would bring a lot of new business for the company.

Late last week, reports emerged indicating AT&T is the last standing contender for FirstNet’s contract, which has yet to be awarded, to provide the country’s first dedicated public safety network. Two earlier contestants more or less are no longer in the running, although Rivada Networks is suing the government to get itself reinstated as a contender.

“We feel like we're in a good place in terms of competing for this business and we think it's important,” Randall Stephenson, chairman, CEO and president of AT&T, said during an appearance at the UBS 44th Annual Global Media and Communications conference, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “We think it's important to build this network for first responders. It's a market segment, first responder community, where we under-index significantly in market share and so, the ability to go in and build a network like this and then go in and compete aggressively for new business—it’s all largely new business for us—is something we're very excited about.”

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The winner of the contract will be licensed to use 20 megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum and must give first responders priority but will be able to sell excess capacity when it’s not being used. Clearly, AT&T is thinking about other, advanced things it can do with this network. “You think about a 5G conversion in this kind of environment, you get pretty excited ... and so, it's a big opportunity for us from an AT&T’s standpoint and we intend to go very, very hard after this and to try and win it.”

He also referenced work with Intel where they hit speeds of nearly 14 gigabits per second in 5G lab settings, a feat that Stephenson mentioned but was careful not to overblow the results. “We had like a 14-gig performance delivered—now that was one customer, OK, so don’t go out of here thinking you’re going to have 14-gig service broadly deployed, but we do believe a ubiquitous 1-gig network is eminently achievable and by the end of this decade, you’ll be seeing these kinds of services turned up.”

Regarding 5G, he said the industry is about to say, “we need to bring 5G forward. Verizon is pushing this really hard, and we're pushing this really hard. And I think 5G is going to be pulled forward, we're all going to want to pull this forward.”

Looking back to when AT&T launched the first iPhone on an exclusive basis with Apple back in 2007, that was probably a 4G product working on a 2G network, he said, “Everybody knows the story, within about four or five months, there was ‘oh, my goodness, bring forward 3G as fast as you can bring forward 3G, bring forward 4G as fast as you can bring forward 4G.’”

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The industry has literally gone through two multibillion-dollar network upgrades in the course of about five years. “Bring Time Warner's content to bear, think DirecTV now and this type of platform, and the … innovations that we'll be doing with content in a mobile device, and I would tell you even what we launched last Wednesday, I believe, as a 5G service being launched on a 4G network.”