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The U.S. plan for a public-safety network could be a windfall for a big carrier

Stephen Lawson | Jan. 18, 2016
The FirstNet network should help first responders communicate in emergencies.

At least one carrier is interested.

"The timing of the spectrum, the position of the spectrum, the customer opportunity that comes with it, it's a rare event, so we're going to pursue it aggressively," said John Donovan, AT&T's senior executive vice president for technology and network operations, said last week at a Citi financial analyst conference.

There are a lot of good reasons for carriers to get excited about FirstNet, said analyst Lynnette Luna of Current Analysis. One is that they can start using frequencies as soon as the contract is awarded. By contrast, spectrum they'd buy in the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming incentive auction of TV channels probably won't be available until 2020, she said.

But there could be downsides to taking on the FirstNet project, Luna said.

For one thing, state and territories are allowed to opt out and build their own networks, though few are likely to take on that burden, she said.

However, the $6.5 billion in funding won't cover the cost of a full national network, and a winning carrier will have to build in mechanisms to make sure public safety users always get priority, Luna said.

 

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