Urgent Matters

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. 

More significantly, this timeline does not attempt to account for myriad possible complicating factors, such as potential legal action. For instance, will a state challenge some of FirstNet’s legal interpretations regarding the “opt-out” process in court? If so, will the delay impact only the state making the challenge, or will it impact all states?

In addition, there are questions about what constitutes a “complete” RFP by an “opt-out” state, which the law states must be executed within 180 days after the governor decides to pursue the “opt-out” alternative. If a state finishes its procurement process but the award is subject to a legal protest that causes a delay beyond the 180-day deadline, it’s not clear how that would be handled and what impact it would have on the timeline.

Bottom line: no one should confuse this timeline as an official document. However, for those wanting a generic timeline for planning purposes, we hope this will be helpful.

March 30, 2017: As announced last week, this is the date of the award to AT&T for the 25-year contract—a date that serves as the starting point for all timeline activities cited in the FirstNet RFP.

June 9, 2017: Scheduled date for the 3GPP standards body to finalize LTE Release 14, which is expected to include some enhanced mission-critical functions and greater Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, including reduced latency in machine-to-machine communications. Many in the wireless industry believe this LTE release will represent the initial standards development of 5G wireless technology.

Sept. 30, 2017: Six months after the award, FirstNet and AT&T are slated to meet their first major milestones, known as the first Initial Operational Capability (IOC) stage, or IOC-1. State plans for FirstNet deployment are scheduled to be delivered to all 56 states and territories. The state plans will be reviewed by governors prior to deciding whether to accept the FirstNet plan or pursue the “opt-out” alternative. If a governor accepts the state plan, public-safety agencies within the state immediately will be allowed to subscribe to preemptive service on all AT&T commercial spectrum bands while the carrier builds out the Band 14 network.

Also by this date, the FCC and NTIA are supposed to release details about their “opt-out” review criteria, and the NTIA will provide construction-grant information for each state, if it chooses to pursue the “opt-out” alternative.

Note that this target date is included in the RFP, not the law, so there is some wiggle room, if needed. In addition, Sept. 30 falls on a Saturday, which may not be an ideal time to deliver state plans.

Dec. 29, 2017: By law, each governor will have 90 days to review the FirstNet state plan and either accept it or decide to pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which would make the state responsible for building, maintaining and upgrading the radio access network (RAN) within its borders while maintaining interoperability with the nationwide FirstNet system. If a governor takes no action, FirstNet will build the RAN, just as it would if the governor accepted the state plan.

While the 90-day period is mandated by law—therefore, unlikely to be changed—the state-plan delivery date is not dictated by the law, so many sources believe steps could be taken in an effort to ensure that governors do not have to make such an important decision during a typical holiday week.

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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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