FirstNet seeing 'multiple different' possible carrier partners, won't delay RFP deadline anymore

NASHVILLE -- FirstNet President T.J. Kennedy said that the organization is seeing interest from "multiple different partners" for its network partner RFP, which is why FirstNet has extended the deadline for the RFP twice now. However, he said that the industry shouldn't expect another delay to the RFP.

"I wouldn't necessarily expect further extensions going forward," Kennedy said here during a keynote presentation at the Mobile Carriers Show. The event, from the Competitive Carriers Association, brings together the nation's smaller and rural wireless carriers, some of which may well be bidding on FirstNet's RFP.

Kennedy added that FirstNet's rollout schedule is "extremely aggressive." The association plans to move forward quickly to reach its goal of beginning initial deployment of a nationwide LTE network for public safety starting around August of 2018. FirstNet expects to name the winner or winners of its network partnership RFP by November of this year.

"We believe it's absolutely necessary that we move in a rapid fashion," Kennedy said.

FirstNet's RFP establishes 16 objectives the group wants to address as its deploys a 700 MHz LTE network across the country that would be used by firefighters, police and other public safety for high-speed wireless communications, from video to voice. FirstNet is offering 20 MHz of spectrum backed by roughly $6.5 billion.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) extended the deadline for RFP network partner bidders from May 13 to May 31, shortly after it extended the deadline for capability statements from March 17 to March 31. The RFP was issued in January, after more than a year of discussions with potential public safety users, and has drawn hundreds of questions from interested bidders.

Kennedy explained that FirstNet's work is geared toward ensuring that public-safety workers have access to the same technologies that the average 15 year old does with a smartphone. "In most communities, we don't have those same tools" as that teenager, he said.

Tier-one wireless operators are likely bidders for FirstNet's RFP, as well as aggregators and vendors. Earlier this year, AT&T (NYSE: T) said it planned to aggressively pursue the FirstNet opportunity. Analysts have also pegged Verizon (NYSE: VZ) as a likely partner for FirstNet, while others like Rivada Networks have made it clear that they plan on being part of the process.

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