Partnering with FirstNet is a way for wireless providers to gain access to valuable spectrum assets in less time and with less upfront costs than traditional methods, such as bidding in FCC auctions, FirstNet officials told industry representatives yesterday during FirstNet’s second Industry Day.

New FirstNet CEO Mike Poth described the FirstNet initiative as “a great opportunity” for potential bidders, or offerers, to “not only to be on the cutting edge and make a difference in public-safety communications, but also, the reality is that this is a great business deal.”

Poth, who was named as FirstNet CEO last week, spent most of the last two decades working as an executive at Hewlett Packard and Northrop Grumman and said he understands what potential offerers need to know.

“I understand, coming from the world in which you live, that you have to make a profit,” Poth said. “I’m shooting for a reasonable profit on your side, quite frankly, but I understand that this is a good business venture for you.”

But industry should recognize that the process associated with selecting partners to deploy an unprecedented nationwide public-safety broadband network with FirstNet will be different than a typical request for proposal (RFP) bid, Poth said.

“We’re looking for honest, direct, continued feedback—that’s how we’re going to make the best feedback,” Poth said. “It’s not lip service; we are truly looking for that partnership. That’s the only way it’s going to be successful.

“This is a procurement unlike many that any of us have participated in. I know that some of the war rooms throughout the country are struggling, and the capture managers are saying, ‘Just give the requirements. I’ll shred that RFP every which way but loose, and I’ll come back with a solution that meets all of those requirements.’ We are looking for your innovation, your creativity and different solutions and approach to solve those [public-safety objectives] objectives and to solve this problem.”

FirstNet President TJ Kennedy echoed this sentiment.

“It’s not a typical federal acquisition,” Kennedy said. “We’re not listing 10,000 specifications and just saying, ‘Bid on it.’ We’re actually asking folks to look at the different value blocks, look at the objectives, and come forward with those innovative ways to do that.”

Key value blocks in the FirstNet business model are $6.5 billion in federal funding allocated by Congress, public-safety user fees and the ability for partners to monetize the valuable 20 MHz of FirstNet’s prime 700 MHz spectrum when it is not being used by first responders.

Kennedy acknowledged that offerers have other options to gain access to spectrum—indeed, the FCC is scheduled to conduct its incentive auction of 600 MHz airwaves next spring—but some unique characteristics of the FirstNet initiative may make the most business sense to wireless players.

In particular, the FirstNet spectrum should be cleared of its few incumbents—some public-safety narrowband LMR systems that were established before the FCC altered the band plan several years ago—by the time the FirstNet award is made, so it can be used “from Day 1,” Kennedy said. This is a stark contrast to spending billions of dollars to win nationwide spectrum at an FCC auction and waiting years for incumbent users to vacate the airwaves for use, he said.