The FirstNet Fizzle

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What do the deployment teams think of FirstNet? What do you think of FirstNet? Yes, FirstNet. For all of us who were looking forward to building FirstNet, guess what, it is only going to help you if you already work for a carrier, a large carrier, probably AT&T. Yes, the carriers are rule the industry.

The way it looks is AT&T are the front-runners, not because of anything specific, just because they are interested in the offer and they are apparently the perfect fit. Maybe Rivada can get in there, but it will be an uphill battle for them. The only competition I could see is if T-Mobile or Verizon show interest, which they didn’t yet. If they do come out as bidders, great, but the way it looks at this moment in time is that AT&T has a lock on it.

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If you are a contractor for AT&T, things look pretty good for you. I believe that the engineers and installers have a great opportunity to get in on the AT&T growth spurt, in 2017. I don’t see much happening before 2017 because this process of approvals, contracts, and agreements will go slow. When they do ramp up, go baby go! Then in 2018 or 2019 we should see the densification of the FirstNet network for better coverage. It’s a long wait, but worth it.

So this will not be a normal public safety offer, really it won’t look like public safety at all. In fact, I am curious how Motorola will survive moving forward, but that is another story. For this story we need to look at this as just another carrier expansion. This is one that the carriers will continue with business as usual, that is, until something doesn’t work or goes wrong then the finger-pointing will begin. I hope they forego the finger-pointing and decide to just push ahead. It will be a new system built on an existing system that will have glitches. Then the advancements will begin, like push to talk, PTT, and over the top, OTT, services for all of you to start adding to the system.

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FirstNet will add a lot of work but the way I see it, it will be as an expansion to the AT&T system. The one thing that AT&T will need to do is build the markets they may not have, like rural Alaska and Hawaii where there may be little or no coverage. They may also need to improve coverage where FirstNet needs to cover real estate. How will they do this? Partners, they will trade spectrum, specifically the Band 14 of FirstNet, to a smaller local carrier just like they do now. Then they will setup roaming between systems.

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Roaming is relatively simple for carriers now. They just bill in whatever terms the contract states, by minute or by call, whatever. They do it all the time between all the carriers. This is how a basic MVNO agreement works. A company, like Virgin Mobile here in the US, has a billing system tied into a large carrier and then create an agreement billing by the minute, a bulk of minutes, or be billed by subscriber. These are ways that the MVNO can work and probably what Rivada will have to do to be competitive.

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I was hoping that FirstNet would spark the industry, but I was wrong. It will merely help the dominance of the carriers over all the wireless systems in the USA.

I bring this up because public safety was the last stand for small business, the last stand for a regional business to do work outside of the carrier world. Broadcast appears to be changing and winding down. Broadcast was a place where smaller businesses were still prevalent. Well, those days are coming to a close, aren’t they? The 600MHz auction is shutting that door. Now, if you don’t do carrier work or tower modifications, then you had better be getting into pole placement for small cell expansion.

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What a let-down, the FirstNet team took a long time to hand it over to a carrier. I guess it should not surprise me because they do LTE so well, but I thought it would be an opportunity for a new player to come in. With all of their money and backing, I have to root for Rivada just to see what they will do different. I know that the $6B budget that they have looks inviting, but the only realistic way they can get there is to partner with a carrier. It makes perfect sense for the FirstNet team.

So what can you do? Sit back and wait for the deployment, next year, hopefully early in 2017 we will see real work rolling out. I am looking forward to it!

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