Verizon to take on AT&T with dedicated network for first responders

Firefighters public safety firstnet AT&T (FirstNet)
Verizon's announcement escalates the battle to provide wireless services to first responders.

Verizon announced plans to build a dedicated network for public safety, escalating a battle with AT&T to serve the nation’s first responders.

The largest wireless network operator in the United States vowed to build and operate its own “private network core” to serve the needs of first responders, managing and directing all communications functions such as network access and call routing. The core will operate separately from Verizon’s commercial core but will enable emergency workers to access the company’s LTE network, which covers 2.4 million square miles.

Verizon also said it will make priority access and preemption services available to public safety when necessary at no charge, and it outlines plans to invest in new offerings to complement existing services such as its Push-to-Talk Plus, which is interoperable with existing land mobile radio networks. The company didn’t discuss how much money it plans to spend on the effort.

“We stand with the public safety officials that keep our cities, communities and neighborhoods safe,” said John Stratton, Verizon’s executive vice president and president of global operations, in a press release. “Support for public safety is in our company’s DNA and our commitment to them never waivers.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this year 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.

Verizon last month urged the FCC to tell states that FirstNet isn’t their only option for a wireless network for public safety workers. Specifically, Verizon is asking the FCC to clarify that states may deploy a network core other than FirstNet’s, and to confirm that an “interoperability review of any state alternative plan will not be limited to a state RAN (radio access network) that interconnects directly with the network core” developed by FirstNet.

Verizon also wants the FCC to confirm that network interoperability can be achieved through alternative network configurations “including core-to-core interconnection and mutual automatic roaming arrangements” that meet the agency’s interoperability criteria.

Verizon has long served the needs of first responders, Michael Maiorana, senior vice president of public sector markets for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, told FierceWireless last month, and it supports “the concept of FirstNet.” The carrier has previously been careful to position its service as complementary to FirstNet, but with the launch of a dedicated network it can compete with AT&T more directly.

Interestingly, both carriers have made a point of saying they’ll launch “preemption”—which essentially can be used to drop service to consumers in favor of public safety workers if necessary—by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, FirstNet continues to garner commitments from states to use its offering. Kansas this week became the 14th state to agree to use FirstNet’s service. 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.

This story and headline were updated August 16 to clarify that Verizon is competing with AT&T to provide wireless services for first responders but continues to view FirstNet as a complementary offering.