FirstNet CEO: No contract to be awarded by Nov. 1 target

FirstNet banner (monica alleven)
A FirstNet banner at the Competitive Carriers Association trade show in September.

If there was any doubt, FirstNet CEO Michael Poth made it official: FirstNet won’t be announcing the contractor for the nation’s first Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network on Nov. 1, leaving it up in the air as to whether it will be awarded during the month of November.  

Earlier this year, Poth said FirstNet remained on track to announce a contract by Nov. 1, but in recent months, FirstNet officials have been using the term “November timeframe” in reference to awarding the 25-year contract, IWCE’s Urgent Communications notes. It's a process that is widely expected to involve at least one nationwide wireless carrier. AT&T, for one, has described the bidding process as a “rare” event and one it intends to aggressively pursue.

“FirstNet will continue to execute the acquisition process outlined in the RFP beyond the November 1st target date for the award,” Poth said in an Oct. 27 blog post. “We will continue to work diligently with our Federal partners to complete the RFP process in line with the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] while being as transparent as allowable.”

There are signs the list of candidates is narrowing, however. pdvWireless stated in an SEC filing that on Oct. 17, it received written notice from the contracting officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior that its proposal for the FirstNet public safety network was no longer being considered for the award. pdvWireless is headed by Brian McAuley and Morgan O'Brien, wireless industry veterans involved in the launch of the first nationwide all-digital network known as Nextel Communications, a pioneer in push-to-talk communications.  

That leaves bidding teams led by AT&T and Rivada Mercury. Rivada Mercury is the entity composed of Nokia, Ericsson, Intel Security, Harris Corporation, Fujitsu Network Communications and Black & Veatch and led by former Sprint executive Joe Euteneuer.

RELATED: Nokia, Ericsson, Intel among Rivada Networks partners on FirstNet bid

Throughout the process, there’s been some expectation by observers that an existing LTE operator will be involved in supplying the network for FirstNet. While analysts at Evercore ISI identified Verizon as well-suited to win the award – for its part, Verizon has been mostly mum on the subject – analysts at Wells Fargo Securities as of mid-October were putting their money on Rivada Networks and Big Blue, aka AT&T, as the two possible winners.

“While we don't know who will win – we would say whoever is a winner may be getting a once in a lifetime opportunity,” wrote Wells Fargo senior analyst Jennifer M. Fritzsche in a research note to investors.Recall, FirstNet provides wireless carriers with the opportunity to procure 20 MHz (megahertz) of nationwide 700 MHz spectrum to build, operate and maintain a nationwide safety network AND get a $7B+ check from the government to do so. 20MHz of nationwide low band spectrum and a check from the government to boot… interesting. Barring a national emergency, we estimate the spectrum will be less than 1% penetrated by public safety needs, which provides the winner with access to that excess capacity. This is the golden ticket in some ways.”

In Nokia’s third-quarter earnings conference call with investment analysts last week, CEO Rajeev Suri mentioned some “swing factors” that could see the market turn more positive for the company, including in North America, where it “could get a bit more resilient by public safety, FirstNet and other operators targeting public safety,” according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.