Wireless carriers may hesitate to partner with FirstNet, analysts say

Despite public-safety officials' praise of commercial wireless options as potential partners for FirstNet, the country's first nationwide broadband first-responder network, analysts believe wireless network providers like Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T), T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS) and Sprint (NYSE: S) may be hesitant to take on the responsibility.

While a partnership with FirstNet would mean access to the network's 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum, Ken Rehbehn, an analyst with 451 Research, said during an IWCE's Urgent Communications' webinar that wireless providers will likely have reservations. Rehbehn said that's largely due in part to the need to prioritize FirstNet's traffic over commercial customers, as well as a loss of company flexibility and potentially increased criticism.

"Now, a failure of a Tier 1 network in a region of the United States may be noticed by users--they may tweet about it or complain about it--but the operator really doesn't have to say much about it," Rehbehn said. "When the FirstNet network is co-mingled, there may be some very negative publicity that flows from a network failure."

Instead, regional carriers could be an alternative for FirstNet, which has faced problems trying to accommodate the nation's 6,000-plus counties it's hoping to serve. Rehbehn is optimistic that the smaller size of a regional carrier's network could mean faster, more tailored adjustment to the needs of FirstNet, as well as the opportunity for small players to access valuable spectrum.

Robert LeGrande, owner of The Digital Decision, a consulting firm working with FirstNet in several states, said the first-responder network's biggest priority should be clarifying spectrum usage for potential carriers.

"How much spectrum is available to a carrier to leverage--and the terms and conditions of the use of that spectrum--are critically important," he said.

FirstNet faced additional troubles earlier this year in drafting a request for proposals. Carrier issues including clarification on the network's "most favored nation" pricing and spectrum usage are expected to be addressed in the final draft of the RFP.

For more:
- see this Urgent Communications article

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