Mike Poth 2017-08-01 07:21:11
For wireless infrastructure providers, the nationwide public safety broadband network to be constructed by AT&T offers opportunities in towers, backhaul and deployables. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was born out of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, which recommended nationwide interoperability for public safety communications. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. As the CEO of FirstNet, I report to a board of directors and Congress. To build the wireless interoperable broadband network, Congress gave us $7 billion in cash and 20 megahertz of radio-frequency spectrum. "AT&T will make use of existing towers where it makes economic sense. To meet the five-year construction deadline, AT&T will use other spectrum it has, and they’re going to run up towers once, is the theory. Where AT&T doesn’t have towers, FirstNet will construct greenfield towers. — Mike Poth, CEO of the First Responder Network Authority The 9/11 terrorist attacks took place more than 15 years ago, and there have been many attempts to resolve the communications problem since then. But the private sector didn’t see a return on investment, although many privatesector companies are passionate about public safety and about protecting communities. Thus, FirstNet was born with the goal to form a private/public partnership among the federal government, public safety agencies and the private sector. Our challenge at FirstNet was to design a business plan and approach where all the incentives could align. We developed a business model and plan focused on value propositions, return on investment, time to market and cash flow — terms you don’t typically hear in federal procurements. Our solution was based on two years of working with the states and territories, including public safety agencies at state, federal, local, and tribal levels to learn their priorities and needs for this type of wireless network, not just in populated areas, but in the entire country, including rural areas. We wanted a solution that could make use of existing infrastructure, which is where many tower owners come into play. Most importantly, the network will guarantee that public safety communications have priority over commercial traffic, even to the point of preempting existing commercial traffic. FirstNet signed a 25-year contract with AT&T to build, operate and maintain a nationwide broadband network. AT&T is responsible to build the core and as many as 56 radio access networks (RANs) in the states and U.S. territories. Under the contract, AT&T is obligated to bring $40 billion in capital to the project. The company also will be using more than $180 billion of its existing assets. After a state government opts in to the national network, AT&T has guaranteed priority on its existing spectrum holdings for public safety communications. AT&T will make use of existing towers when it makes economic sense. To meet the five-year construction deadline, AT&T will use other spectrum it has, and the company is going to run up towers once, is the theory. Where AT&T doesn’t have towers, FirstNet will construct greenfield towers. I can’t tell you how many because that part of the project is still evolving. And, one of the other key components of the contract is our requirement that, with every phase of the build, there must be a rural component. We weren’t just going to be content to let AT&T build in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for the first few years and then say, “Eventually, we’ll get out to the remote areas.” Most of the United States is rural, and rural telecommunications companies are already under contract with AT&T to start that process. Because for public safety, coverage is as important as capacity, the network will cover areas that are not economically viable for a carrier. The network will use a significant amount of deployables [mobile and portable wireless base stations and towers], staged throughout the country, to help public safety agencies respond more quickly to manmade and natural disasters in the most effective manner possible. Between AT&T and the federal government, FirstNet will put $46 billion into the marketplace. We’re estimating well over 10,000 new jobs will be created. This is significant not only to the U.S. economy, but also, and more importantly, to the public safety agencies, communities and families that rely on public safety agencies for protection. Via statute, more than $300 million was allocated to public safety research and innovation for applications and device ecosystems to increase the ability for firefighters to have wearable suits that can transmit biometrics over wireless communications systems. A sister organization to FirstNet, the Public Safety Communications Research Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, awarded the first $30 million in grants for public safety technology innovation, and we’re looking forward to some great things. Meanwhile, during the 25-year contract, FirstNet will invest into the network the revenue it receives. The money will go into technology — first into 5G, followed by 6G and then whatever the technology is in the next 10 to 25 years. Ten years ago, cell phones, iPhones and all those type of things weren’t as prevalent as they are today, and certainly not prevalent in public safety. But now you see almost every public safety officer using that technology, whether it’s his or her own devices or those provided by public safety departments. It’s incumbent on us to get more technology plugged into them. For wireless infrastructure providers, there are opportunities to plug into this deal with backhaul, towers, deployables and innovation. We’re starving for more creative ways to get this accomplished. Some public safety agencies are temperamental and customer-based. But they’re early adaptors. When something works, they’re all in. I’m absolutely convinced that public safety is going to benefit from the FirstNet technology. Mike Poth is CEO of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). This article is derived from the keynote speech he delivered on May 23 at the Wireless Infrastructure Show. His remarks are edited for length, clarity and style. Photography by Don Bishop.
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