FirstNet wins Maryland backing as competition from Verizon, Rivada heats up

Abstract photo of a crime scene
Verizon and Rivada are also hoping to provide wireless services for first responders.

Maryland said it will opt into FirstNet’s offering, becoming the 19th U.S. state to agree to the dedicated wireless network for first responders, which will be run by AT&T.

But FirstNet is still fighting for the backing of big states as competition to provide a wireless network for first responders heats up.

“Keeping Marylanders safe is our top priority, and our first responders need to be equipped with every tool possible to protect our citizens," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release. “By adopting this plan, our first responders will now have the ability to efficiently and effectively work together not just within the state, but across the region and at the national level.”

The FirstNet organization was created in 2012, but the U.S. Department of Commerce didn’t award the contract to a service provider until March 2017, when it granted AT&T the right to build the nation’s first network dedicated to first responders. States have a legal right to opt out of FirstNet’s service, but if they choose another service provider, the network must be interoperable with FirstNet’s offering.

Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia are among other states that have verbally committed to FirstNet, and two territories have opted in as well. Governors in all 56 states and territories can choose to go with FirstNet or opt out and choose an alternative.

But competition to provide wireless services to first responders is increasing: Rivada Networks is also fighting for a piece of the market and is responding to states that issue RFPs seeking vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety radio access network that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s service. And Verizon is also pursuing the market in a big way, vowing recently to build and operate its own “private network core” that will operate separately from its commercial core but will enable emergency workers to access its LTE network.

Verizon told Urgent Communications last week that its public-safety network would support FirstNet 700 MHz Band 14 operations in Verizon devices to provide a competitive option, but it said it hasn’t had formal discussions with FirstNet yet.

And while FirstNet is clearly gaining momentum, it will need to score customer wins among bigger states to be considered a success, according to Ken Schmidt, president of Steel in the Air, which brokers lease deals for cell towers.

“Noticeably, many of the larger, more populous states have not signed up yet, and AT&T needs additional state-level ‘wins’ before declaring FirstNet a success,” Schmidt wrote in a LinkedIn post three weeks ago. “The deadline for opt-in/opt-out decision(s) by states is the middle of December, so we see a key indicator of FirstNet activity being large-state adoption in late Q3 and Q4.”