Verizon plans FirstNet rival

Photo credit: John Roman Images / 

Verizon is banking that its sprawling, national wireless network can attract public safety and first responders across the U.S. to a dedicated, private core network developed just for them.

The plan addresses the same market FirstNet and AT&T are after with the federally backed interoperable wireless network for first responders that was first recommended by the 9/11 Commission. Verizon announced the news at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials annual conference in Denver on Aug. 15.

"We've proposed a network solution we believe will achieve the mission of FirstNet, as well as maintain the competitive nature of the communications marketplace," said Michael Maiorana, senior vice president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions - Public Sector in an Aug. 16 article posted to LinkedIn.

Maiorana explained that Verizon didn't bid on the FirstNet contract because of its structure.

"We chose not to bid on the FirstNet RFP because it was essentially structured as a spectrum deal," he said. "We were not interested in commercializing FirstNet's spectrum and we didn't need extra network spectrum to build out our nationwide network."

He explained, however, that Verizon remained interested in supporting "the majority of public safety agencies."

Verizon's network would be pulled from the company's commercial 4G LTE network, which it says covers 2.4 million square miles of the U.S.

FirstNet and AT&T are using spectrum set aside for public safety under 2012 economic stimulus legislation. Under its contract with FirstNet, AT&T can use some of that spectrum for commercial applications.

In its formal announcement of the plans on Aug. 16, Verizon said it would make priority access and preemption available to public safety "when necessary and at no charge."

The company declined to specify how much it would invest in the public safety network. AT&T has pledged $40 billion to build out infrastructure to support FirstNet.

According to Verizon's announcement, the investment would also cover new mission-critical 4G LTE voice communications to complement existing services such as Push-to-Talk Plus. PTT Plus already includes interoperability with existing Land Mobile Radio networks.

The plan seems mostly aimed at urban and municipal public safety agencies, because states are required to either participate in FirstNet or formally opt out and obtain their own solutions, which must be interoperable with the FirstNet core.

Verizon said its public safety network solution does not require public safety organizations to opt out of FirstNet, or require access to any federal funding provided to FirstNet, or any financial commitment from states to support its network deployment.

"Individual public safety agencies can decide who they want to work with," said Kevin King, Verizon director of corporate communications in a statement to FCW on Aug. 16. "They are not beholden to any opt-in decision made by their state." Verizon's current public safety customers, he said, "can continue to work with us under their existing contracts."

King told FCW that priority access is available already for public safety, with preemption services available by the end of 2017, and the dedicated network core completed in 2018.

The issue of how the core would possibly integrate with FirstNet/AT&T's network is still being considered by Verizon, according to King, who said it was "premature" to discuss interoperability plans.

However, the company's announcement provides at least one detail. It said it would "make available multi-band devices to provide access to Band 14 spectrum and enable full interoperability with any Band 14 radio access networks deployed by FirstNet."

"Band 14" is the 700 MHz Band spectrum made available for FirstNet to build its interoperable public safety network. The 700 MHz Band consists of 108 megahertz of spectrum, running from 698-806 MHz, that was freed up by the 2009 digital television transition.

The move comes as FirstNet and AT&T push to get states onto their dedicated interoperable broadband wireless network. States are currently in the process of reviewing individual network plans supplied by FirstNet and deciding whether they want to opt into the organization's plans or create their own.

FirstNet has signed over a dozen states to its plan so far.

Last March, FirstNet awarded AT&T the $6.5 billion, 25-year contract to build the network and use the bandwidth for public safety and commercial applications.

AT&T will receive the $6.5 billion from FirstNet under the contract, but the company has said it will cost more to build the network and it intends to invest about $40 billion of its own money in the network over the life of the contract. AT&T hopes to turn a profit by leveraging underutilized portions of that spectrum for commercial services.

FirstNet hinted in an Aug. 16 email to FCW that Verizon's plans might not be as effective as its own network, which it is building in consultation with public safety organizations.

FirstNet, said an organization spokesperson in the statement to FCW, will deliver "true priority" and "ruthless preemption" – booting commercial users off the network when it is needed in a crisis -- for public safety.

"These services are unmatched and unique to public safety, and that is why we are seeing so much momentum with the FirstNet Network in the states and territories," said the spokesperson.

Kansas and Arizona are the most recent states to opt into the program, according to the spokesperson. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed as opt-in agreement with FirstNet on Aug. 15. Arizona officials also said on Aug. 15 that the state opted in to FirstNet's plans

According to the FirstNet spokesperson, two of the states that have opted in looked at alternative options through an RFP/RFI process before deciding to join FirstNet.

In its statement to FCW, AT&T said the company is "spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create a nationwide, dedicated FirstNet core just for public safety that will soon route and encrypt all FirstNet traffic, creating the highly secure environment public safety requires." The network, said the company "should be live in March 2018."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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