Urgent Matters

American Tower makes its public-safety partnership case—and not just for FirstNet


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While working with commercial tower companies may be natural for FirstNet, American Tower officials insist that it also wants to work with public-safety entities today in an effort to help them generate revenue streams from existing assets that can help pay for needs today, including upgrades to LMR systems.

LAS VEGAS—Almost from the moment that FirstNet was created, the notion that the proposed nationwide broadband system should include partners beyond traditional public-safety users—fire, EMS and law-enforcement personnel—has been part of the equation in an effort to develop a workable business model for deploying and maintaining the network.

There are many reasons why partnerships make sense, with the most fundamental one being that the $7 billion in federal funding support for FirstNet promised by Congress simply is not enough money to pay for a nationwide LTE network for just public safety. As a point of comparison, commercial carriers like Verizon and AT&T often spend more than $7 billion annually to upgrade their networks, and they don’t even claim to meet the coverage and reliability requirements that public safety needs FirstNet to meet.

There are myriad potential partners for FirstNet to consider, each of which can bring unique assets to the table. For instance, partnerships with utilities could help expand the user base and provide access to key infrastructure like hardened sites and backhaul options. Sharing excess bandwidth capacity with commercial entities—something Rivada Networks has proposed—not only could help fund the buildout of the FirstNet broadband system but enhance the ongoing revenue stream for maintenance and technology upgrades.

Of course, arguably the most obvious partners are the commercial entities that already have experience building and operating LTE networks. In this arena, the first option that comes to mind are the commercial carriers, which have the kind of billing and customer-support infrastructure that FirstNet eventually will need.

FirstNet also needs sites—lots of them. In fact, according to discussions surrounding the recently approved roadmap, FirstNet is looking at deployment options that call for somewhere between 14,000 and 35,000 sites. In the commercial arena, sites typically are not owned and operated by tower companies—not the carriers—that specialize in these functions. Despite their names, the tower companies are not limited to tower sites, as much of their portfolios today include sites that are located on rooftops or other infrastructure that make design sense for supporting wireless communications.

One of the biggest players among the tower companies is American Tower, which is proposing that it could be valuable partner to FirstNet by providing access to tower sites needed for rapid deployment, as well as a variety of operational support options.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.


Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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