FirstNet: When will it Happen?


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So FirstNet came out and said that they would issue the RFP to build the entire USA, article found here. This helps us understand that they do intend to build the country as a whole, not state by state. Now, the states do have the option to opt out, but so far I don’t see any definitive signs that any will. Now, what they show and what they will so could differ because the states have looked into it. They have hired consultants to help them weigh out the options. I believe that they would prefer to build their own networks but they don’t see the payback. In fact, they don’t have to go on the FirstNet network if they don’t want to. That may be the second thing they need to consider, which is cheaper, the carrier or dog-tags_clearbackgrondFirstNet. Let me tell you, devices will be expensive for FirstNet because any manufacturer will on make thousands, not millions. That is the most obvious obstacle but if there is an emergency then the FirstNet network will be up and available where the carrier’s network may be overloaded.

The way FirstNet is going to maintain the system is by selling contracts to first responders. This could be states, counties, cities, and anyone who may really need the LTE emergency network for data and eventually voice.

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Andrew Seybold, noted analyst in the wireless industry, wonders if anyone is still interested in bidding on FirstNet. (Great article in Mission Critical Magazine and I am a fan of Mr. Seybold’s work.) If you’re in the wireless industry then you know that this is going to take forever. The federal government has found a way to make the deployment go even slower before it begins. Let’s look at the problems.

  • To answer the question, anyone who wants a part of that $7B will bid on it, to make the money. So I see all the OEMs, large management companies, and contractors all bidding on it.
  • Is $7Billion dollars enough? Enough to get started. I am guessing over $30Billion to get over 75% of it completed if they build it themselves. If they partner with a carrier they could save a lot of money, the way I see it. But hey, I am guessing.
  • Can FirstNet run and maintain this RAN system without outside help? No, not without another major investment. So someone will have to maintain it for them costing them more money annually, (OpEx). It will not be free! They just do not have the manpower to take care of something like that. Who does, really, other than a carrier who is already doing it?
  • Does anyone think that FirstNet can sustain the network financially by selling services to public safety groups in the states? Not really, but there is hope and they do have a plan. States can still opt out but it is very hard to opt out and the W4W_20Cover_202budget dollars are not there. I would guess one source of income they would really like to have is to lease the spectrum to a major carrier. The deal there is that the carrier has access but public safety has priority and if an emergency happens then the carrier would likely lose access to it. As for the states buying time on it, that may become more of a political decision. If the states want to remain in good favor with the federal government they may spend the money hoping it will replace a carrier, but let’s face it, FirstNet reaching a carrier’s coverage is over a decade away.
  • Backhaul network? They would need to rely on vendors and the states to complete it and the states would want to charge for usage just like the vendors. Backhaul is key and will cost a lot of money if they build it all themselves. Backhaul will add to the OpEx and cost more money each month. Many states, like Pennsylvania, have their own backhaul network which FirstNet would use for political reasons if nothing else. It just makes sense. I see the fiber companies making a lot of money from this venture. Uncle San will pay a lot of money to add to the already intense infrastructure that they already have.
  • Was the draft RFP a good model for the actual RFP? It was OK but you don’t have a dedicated and experienced wireless team there. Don’t get me wrong, they are smart and learning, so I Tower_20Worker_20Logbook_20Cover_20Final_203wouldn’t put too much stock in that. It is like all new wireless companies that hire a core team and then practice and make corrections. That is where they learn from consultants, OEMs, and experienced people in the industry. Many states have dabbled in broadband and have an idea of what to do, but building the first public safety national network will be a huge challenge no matter who does it.
  • Can they complete it before the deadline? It doesn’t look that way to me so they may have to ask for an extension. I am not sure if they can get it or if the government would try to get what’s left of the $7Billion. Wait and see, I just hope all the contractors and suppliers get paid for what they have done.
  • Is the coverage area realistic? They are mandated to cover most of the real estate in the USA, so it will be tough! I forget the percentage, but it’s really high. They only make money where they lease the network. So the major population areas is where they will make a good return and the sparse rural areas, where even the carrier don’t want to build, will cost money to maintain with little return.
  • Can they do it without the help of a major carrier? Probably, but it will be much harder and cost much more!
  • Will a major carrier partner with FirstNet? I don’t know. I don’t see any of them publicly saying they want to. T-Mobile and Sprint SOW_20Training_20Coverdon’t see interested, Verizon and AT&T are looking into it but is it worth all the headaches? Only they can tell you. FirstNet would be smart to get the help of the CCA, in my opinion. CTIA would be a big help, but they would do what the carriers wanted, not what FirstNet wants.
  • If FirstNet builds the NPSBN, what does that mean to wireless deployment? More work, plenty of work, lots of work. All across the USA! Many crews would get busy doing federal work so life would be good for the build out years. Then, if you can score a maintenance contract you could continue to make residuals.
  • Will FirstNet start to deploy in 2016? Hell no! They are going to issue the RFP at the end of 2015, so that process takes time. Then the contract negotiations. Then the ramp up. Then the massive site acquisition and then the backhaul planning, network planning. First, they need to build a core and that takes time. I would like to think they would start in 2017. Can you wait that long?
  • Will the election change things? Possibly, but I hope not. It would really hurt and they already have $7B for this program. So I think it will continue until the money runs out.

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