FirstNet RFP, Deploy if you Dare!

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The FirstNet RFP was released! Can you believe it? I started working on this back in 2011 making material for the pending RFP, and here it is in 2016. I was so excited until I looked at all of the documentation, wow! There is so much. However, I am not going to break it all down, I just want to give a high level view of what it will mean to the deployment teams. Deployment will not happen until 2017, installations mid to late 2017, but when it does, there will be plenty of work.

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So, what does this mean to the wireless deployment community? Well, almost nothing until 2017. Let’s face it, to go through this it will take some time. FirstNet expects their responses to come in April where they will need to review it and see who can do it. Unless you work on the RFP response, 2016 won’t mean much to you. The way the RFP is written, it may not matter anyway.

Who can do it? It will take a carrier. It will not happen too quickly even though they want it too. I see AT&T having the best shot at doing this. I think Verizon would be a great competitor but I get the feeling they’re not interested mainly because they always answer with “No comment” when asked. Either they are still deciding or they don’t’ want to.

One thing that will hold back integrators is the penalty they will get if public safety does not subscribe, Donny Jackson wrote an article here. Isn’t government great when they want a sustainable system? They can just say that you have to pay them or don’t bid. That will hold back integrators because FirstNet is really looking for carriers, not integrators. In fact, it could even hold back the carriers. They already have working models without the potential penalties. FirstNet is doing all that they can to hold back the number of bidders. I am reading through the RFP, but I didn’t see this section just yet but I do see the minimum payments part. Maybe I missed it but I was more concerned with the actual equipment and services. If this is the case, why would anyone take this on? Even AT&T has to think it might not be worth it unless they see value in the spectrum. Is AT&T is willing to pay this as a fee to get more spectrum, after all, FirstNet can’t sell it. Will AT&T set up a public safety sales division to sell to public safety groups nationwide? It may become more of a headache than an asset but they may do it for the additional spectrum.

T-Mobile might do this for spectrum as well, but will they tackle something like this? Probably not. They may not want to deal with the extra work or the potential for bad press or the penalties. It probably isn’t on their roadmap unless they really, really want the spectrum.

I don’t see Sprint doing it. They are a mess and need to worry about their own system before they deploy another system.

It looks like FirstNet really pigeon holed this RFP towards carriers, nationwide carriers who already have a system built and running. All the anticipation in the industry and now it looks like no integrator would want to touch it with these crazy penalties. However, I guess you can sell your own devices on this spectrum and that may be a source of revenue. If you can’t get the public safety groups to go on it then it may be an additional way to load the network. They will like it until there is an emergency and the spectrum is pulled away from the consumer for emergency responders, but if no public safety group is on it then why bother?

Selling public safety is more than just providing a great deal, it also has to do with politics. Some groups may sign up to support the network and others may not just because they don’t believe in it. It’s not like the carrier market where you do have loyalty, but mostly people sign up for coverage and price, maybe to get a cool phone but you can put almost any phone on any network in today’s world.

Now, the deployment scenarios.

Timeline – with the RFP being released in January of 2016 and being due in April, there may be an extension so let’s say May. Then FirstNet need to evaluate the responses, which it may only be AT&T. If there are a lot of responses then it may take the rest of the year. Once they pick a winner then the negotiations and final contract talks need to be completed. Then the deployment will happen. I say 2017 with RF design and site acquisition then site design, structural engineering, and then installation, commissioning, integration and finally optimization. If it’s an AT&T then it will be treated as an expansion or system growth, not really a new deployment.  Installation probably happening mid to late 2017, all the way through 2019.

A new carrier with a system integrator – this would be where a new carrier would partner with a Harris or Motorola. If they got it then there would be many RFPs coming out to expand. First they would need to work with an OEM to deploy. The RFP is so much more than that, but let’s just concentrate on deployment. They would need to secure tower space, create a massive RF design, then site design, then deploy. I don’t know what the deployment strategy would be but it would be a lot of work and the equipment may not be ready until mid to late 2017 to be mounted. Antennas, cables, and eNodeBs would all need to be ordered which they may have something or they may not. It would be close to what Verizon has to maybe it would not take so long to develop. Maybe 6 months. Then the installation could begin. Logistics would be a major factor. Get ready for RFPs out the wazoo if that happens.

It’s too bad that LightSquared is in dire straits because this would be a good play for them or a start-up if they can sell their own products on this system and FirstNet would pay them to do it.

Carrier – If a carrier wins, like T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T, then I would imagine they would treat it like an expansion and try to deploy it along with whatever else they have to deploy. The only problem they have would be reporting progress back to FirstNet on a regular basis. The deployment teams would again probably not start until mid to late 2017 because of the design and the equipment details. You see, AT&T has to worry about the existing leases so they need to decide if they can get a new radio head and antenna or if they have to add new sectors altogether. I would think they could expand but the leases have to go through before they can do much of anything.  The sad part of this is that AT&T will go back to the turf model, so they will need to be sure that all the climbers are certified and safe. It will be a challenge because this is a federal project so they will be deploying under a microscope.

For the deployment teams, more work! RF Design will be needed. For tower leasing companies, it should mean a lot more revenue! For site design and structural engineers, so much more work! You all have the upfront work to do so the installation and integration teams can get to work. Then the optimization will happen. This should be over 3 years of macro deployments nationwide. It all depends on who you’re already aligned with.

If you’re thinking about small cells and DAS, I would think any of that would happen until late 2018, unless AT&T wins, then it may happen sooner. FirstNet will need better coverage, so the indoor coverage will matter at some point. To achieve this they will need small cells all around, inside and out. I see this as a huge boost for the small cell deployments. Unfortunately it won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest, 2019 is more likely.

So get out there and deploy America! Deploy for your country to finally have a nationwide broadband network so that they can watch everyone on live video feeds at will! Oh, don’t get me wrong, I see big brother watching, but who has time to watch everyone, seriously, who? This network will help public safety teams do so much more. The police will have live video available to track bad guys. Fire and Ambulance can use it to send medical data back and forth so they can treat someone live in the field and on the way to the hospital to save lives. The game commission can use it so that I can watch the eagles in their nest, like this one in Pa. I can’t wait. Just as long as the government doesn’t mandate cat videos on YouTube, then I am good.

Just think if we could see the first responders in real-time with their body camera video, how cool would that be? At least the 911 dispatch could get a glimpse of what’s happening real-time so they could call for back up or medical if needed. Really, that’s a game changer.

By the way, all of this has been done so far with the FCC spectrum auction money, not tax dollars. I hope they can sustain it without tax dollars, but only time will tell. They put penalties in there because they thought the spectrum was so valuable that people would live with it, will they? Time for a reality check! The response to the RFP will tell the tale.

Tell me what you think and get on my email list today! 

To see the FirstNet RFP, go to to learn more and download it here, and they had a webinar, the slides are available here, in PDF format.

From Mission Critical Magazine, FirstNet by the Numbers.


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