Urgent Matters

RFP competition should improve chances that FirstNet vision can become a reality for public safety

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It may have been the worst-kept secret in the public-safety communications industry, but AT&T announcement that it is leading a FirstNet bidding team means that the RFP process has at least three competitors, which should be good news for public safety.

It may have been the worst-kept secret in the public-safety communications industry, but AT&T last week officially announced that it is leading one of the bidding teams vying for the right to build and maintain FirstNet’s nationwide public-safety broadband network for the next 25 years.

This came as a surprise to no one, as AT&T expressed interest in the FirstNet opportunity even before the request for proposals (RFP) was released in January. But some industry observers had wondered whether AT&T may have had second thoughts about leading a bid team when the carrier giant remained silent as Rivada Mercury and pdvWireless publicly announced their respective bids during the past several weeks.

AT&T’s announcement should put that speculation to rest.

Meanwhile, industry sources continue to wonder what next moves two other industry giants—Verizon and Motorola Solutions —may take in association with FirstNet.

Both companies potentially have a lot at stake in the FirstNet RFP process, but neither has announced exactly what role they may be playing in the FirstNet sweepstakes. Motorola Solution has said it is participating in some way, while Verizon has remained completely silent.

There is remarkably little speculation that Verizon or Motorola would lead an offeror team, but that is still possible. Meanwhile, the most popular theories are that they are part of at least one team led by another company—many believe both could be on two teams.

It is fun to speculate on such things, and I’d love to know the truth. But the key here is that the more good companies are part of these three announced teams—and maybe there are others—the better the chances are that the RFP evaluation team will be able to make a choice that meets the multilayered criteria that the FirstNet board wants fulfilled before entering into a 25-year deal with the contractor team.

It’s hard to believe that it was only five months ago when many in the public-safety industry questioned whether there would be legitimate bidders for the FirstNet initiative. The concern was understandable, given the fact that the FirstNet RFP basically provides no money to the contractor on a net basis over the long-term deal, while the contractor is obligated to pay an estimated $40 billion or more to build, maintain and upgrade the system.

But FirstNet officials understood the value proposition for a contractor team to make money, as we have at least three bidders vying for the right to build this much-anticipated nationwide network. AT&T and Rivada have been upfront and engaged in this process from the beginning. The interest from pdvWireless was a bit of a surprise while the company pursues its 900 MHz private broadband proposal, but it certainly should understand public-safety needs and economics of the venture, as Vice Chairman Morgan O’Brien and other company officials were part of a failed effort to pursue something similar almost a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the way the RFP is structured, FirstNet will have an assured annual revenue stream from the contractor, so FirstNet's financial sustainability—a major concern when this initiative was started in 2012—should not be an issue.

Of course, it’s possible that none of the bids meet the goals that FirstNet has established for this key public-safety network, from the technical and/or financial standpoint. But I don't think that's the case. I like the odds of FirstNet being able to provide first responders with the kind of broadband system they need, given the backgrounds of the announced bidding teams and the fact that there are at least three of them competing.

 

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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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