FirstNet launches preemption as Verizon bows out of California RFP

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States have until Dec. 28 to decide whether to use FirstNet’s offering.

AT&T and FirstNet launched “ruthless preemption,” giving first responders top priority to its network even during times of extreme congestion.

FirstNet, which last week touted its 34th state customer when Missouri opted in to use its system, is positioning full-time preemption as a key differentiator against competitors such as Verizon and Rivada Networks. The battle to provide wireless services to emergency workers has become increasingly intense ahead of the Dec. 28 deadline for states and territories to decide whether they’ll use FirstNet; those that don’t make an official declaration will automatically be opted in.

“We’re saying it doesn’t matter if it’s an off-duty police officer” or any other kind of first responder, said Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T-FirstNet. “They will get access (to the network) automatically. Nobody has to go in and turn it on for them.”

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FirstNet suffered its first significant loss last week when New Hampshire officially opted out, becoming the first state to choose not to use the system. Gov. Chris Sununu said the state will instead tap Rivada to provide wireless service for its emergency workers, which he argued will enable New Hampshire to retain more control over the communications initiative.

But FirstNet came one step closer to scoring another major victory late last week when Verizon decided not to participate in California’s request for proposals for alternatives to AT&T’s offering. Verizon cited “onerous” mandates from FirstNet, according to Urgent Communications, and complained that FirstNet and AT&T are “rigging the game to stifle true competition.”

Securing the FirstNet contract was viewed as a major win for AT&T, which will get access to 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system. AT&T will spend roughly $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to deploy and maintain the network, the Department of Commerce said, integrating its network assets with FirstNet.

Some states have balked at FirstNet’s terms of service in recent weeks, though, and some major states—including California, which is the most populous in the nation—remain on the fence. And cities and towns in states that opt in won’t automatically be required to fall in line; they can instead choose to go with another service. So the fight to meet the needs of those users is expected to continue long past the Dec. 28 deadline.

“Roughly 80% of police officers are using their personal devices” on the job, Sambar noted. “That’s great; it forces AT&T to build the best possible service out there.”