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What will happen at FirstNet during the next few years? Check out this timeline for potential answers

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With AT&T being awarded the 25-year contract to build the nationwide FirstNet system last week, here is a glimpse at the proposed milestones we may see during the next few years. 

Now that AT&T officially is the contractor charged with building, operating and upgrading FirstNet’s nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), the most-asked questions have revolved around the cost of service and when service would be available.

Neither answer is available at the moment, which is completely understandable. By all accounts, staff for both FirstNet and AT&T each have been preparing for months to be ready to move as quickly as possible toward deployment of the much-anticipated network, but they really weren’t able to speak to each other until the award was announced a week ago. One of the best quotes heard at IWCE 2017 last week compared the FirstNet situation to “trying to plan a wedding without being able to talk with the bride.”

Despite this, AT&T and FirstNet provided some notable news about their plans by revealing that FirstNet public-safety subscribers would get priority access—to be upgraded to preemption, when that becomes available near the end of the year—across all of AT&T’s spectrum bands after their state’s governor accepts the FirstNet state plan.

“That is a huge thing for public safety, because that means that public safety—once the governor agrees to an opt in—that automatically becomes available to everybody in that state,” Harlin McEwen, then-chairman of FirstNet’s public-safety advisory committee (PSAC) said during an IWCE session. “That’s a huge starting point, because it will take awhile to get the eNodeBs for FirstNet Band 14 installed all through a state. But you’ll have immediate access to a priority amount of spectrum from AT&T.

“It’s a tremendous agreement. That’s just almost unbelievable. I have to be really more than pleased about that announcement.”

Meanwhile, FirstNet and AT&T officials are striving to determine when draft state plans and final state plans will be delivered, as well as scheduling outreach to all 56 states and territories.

“We are working with AT&T to develop the final schedule for the delivery of state plans,” according to FirstNet spokesperson. “Our goal is to move as quickly as possible to ensure the governors have all the information to make an informed decision and deliver a solution to public safety as soon as possible.”

As the public-safety community awaits for more details, the fact that the award to AT&T was finalized last Thursday does give us some insight about the timing of some key events associated with the FirstNet system moving forward. That’s because the FirstNet request for proposals (RFP) outlined deployment stages and milestones for its contractor to meet.

With this in mind, I created a timeline based on dates provided in the RFP, the law that established FirstNet, and some other information that is available publicly.

Before we get started, it is important to note that this timeline is merely a journalist’s estimate created only for guidance purposes—in other words, “actual mileage may vary,” as manufacturers note in car commercials. This is particularly true for dates that are not stipulated in the law, as well as for dates that fall on weekends or holidays. In addition, it assumes that FirstNet and AT&T meet the timelines outlined in the RFP.

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

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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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