Rivada, Verizon undeterred by FirstNet’s nationwide public-safety sweep

Firefighters public safety firstnet AT&T (FirstNet)
The FirstNet service is intended to create a high-speed nationwide, interoperable network for public-safety users like police officers and firefighters. (Image: FirstNet)

Last week AT&T and FirstNet managed to secure public-safety agreements with all of the nation’s 50 states, as well as two U.S territories and Washington, D.C. That means that AT&T will get access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum in every state across the entire country, alongside $6.5 billion in federal funding to help build out that coverage.

The news also essentially closes the door on Rivada and Verizon, which had both been working to offer an alternative to FirstNet to some of the nation’s states.

So where does this leave Rivada and Verizon?

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Rivada, for its part, said that it respects New Hampshire’s decision to opt back in to FirstNet at the last minute—New Hampshire in early December announced it would allocate its 700 MHz spectrum to Rivada, but New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu reversed that decision late last week. “While Rivada’s plan remains the better option for New Hampshire, I have determined that the additional risk associated with being the only state to opt-out creates too high a barrier for New Hampshire to continue down the opt-out path alone,” Sununu said last week.

“We salute New Hampshire’s vision and courage in selecting us. If more states shared the Granite State’s diligence, integrity and commitment to transforming public safety communications, New Hampshire would not have had to stand alone at the deadline,” Rivada said in a statement last week. “We are proud to say that thanks to our efforts, first responders all over the country have gotten a better deal and better service than they could have hoped for without the competitive pressure we offered. Rivada will continue to work to transform the wireless industry through our open access wireless technology.”

When questioned about the topic further, Rivada’s Brian Carney told FierceWireless that the company is not closing its public safety business. “Public safety remains an important application of our technology," he said. Carney added that, more broadly, Rivada is currently working to respond to public-safety “requests for information” in Canada and Australia.

As for Verizon, the company said that FirstNet’s sweep of the nation’s 50 states has “no impact on Verizon's commitment to public safety.”

“2017 generated significant dialogue regarding public safety communications. That was good and it drew increased attention to this critical customer segment,” wrote Verizon spokesperson Kevin King in response to questions from FierceWireless. “Also, I think it's important to note that although states chose to opt-in to FirstNet, that does not require public safety agencies to use FirstNet. They remain able to choose the communications provider that best fits their needs.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Verizon is holding “Public Safety Days” in cities across the country as an “opportunity for local police, government and public safety agencies and first responders to hear from their peers.” The company also reiterated its plans to build a dedicated public safety network core and add priority access and preemption service for public safety users.

Nonetheless, analyst Ken Rehbehn said Verizon could face significant challenges in the years ahead as it works to convince public-safety users across the country to choose its network and services over those offered by FirstNet and AT&T. “This will hinge on applications,” he said, explaining that FirstNet has essentially promised to develop and offer an app store for public-safety users like police and firefighters. That app store will contain “vetted, standardized, secured apps on a secure network,” FirstNet has boasted—and Verizon would be hard-pressed to obtain public-safety customers if those apps remain restricted to AT&T’s FirstNet service. “I think that’s the fight of the future between FirstNet/AT&T and Verizon,” Rehbehn noted. “It’s going to be a fascinating story to watch.”

When questioned about FirstNet's application strategy, spokesperson Ryan Oremland explained the apps would be developed using open, common standards and could therefore potentially be available in commercial app stores and on other services, like those from Verizon.  "We are committed to creating a vibrant application ecosystem that enables collaboration and communication between developers and public safety users on innovative new applications, technologies and devices," he said.