AT&T expects to deploy the Band 14 FirstNet public-safety LTE network “much quicker” than the five-year schedule included in the request for proposals (RFP), and first-responder subscribers will have “ruthless preemption” access rights on the system, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said today.

Speaking during the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Stephenson outlined myriad advantages to AT&T deploying FirstNet quickly—something the carrier giant hopes to do, if states choose to accept the FirstNet/AT&T nationwide deployment plan.

“We want to go as fast as we possibly can go, and—to the extent we get the states opting in—this should not be a five-year build,” Stephenson said during the conference, which was webcast. “We ought to be able to do this much quicker than that, and we're motivated to do it quicker than that.”

Stephenson said that he has spoken to governors who are "very enthusiastic to get going" on the FirstNet nationwide deployment and likely will accept the FirstNet state plan—likely to be presented in the fall—quickly, which would allow buildout in those states to begin sooner. In those scenarios, AT&T is "fairly confident" that it will begin Band 14 deployment by the end of the year, he said.

Stephenson acknowledged the "opt-out" alternative, which requires states to deploy their own radio access networks (RANs), but noted that the "criteria for opting out are pretty stringent, and you have to be pretty motivated to opt out."

AT&T officials previously have stated that public-safety subscribers to FirstNet would get preemptive access to Band 14 and across all of AT&T’s spectrum bands, but Stephenson today specified that public-safety users would have a “ruthless preemption” access.

“A term we use is ‘ruthless preemption’ capability, meaning … if you have [commercial] customers in this spectrum and there is a demand by the first-responder community—whether it's a national crisis or a local crisis or whatever—you have to ruthlessly preempt whoever is on that network, move him to another spectrum band, and give the first responders full access to that spectrum,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson also addressed the coverage and reliability aspects of the FirstNet system.

“It's got to be nationwide—covering rural America and all of America—and it has to be a hardened network, meaning that of its all cell sites in hurricane areas are bunkered, so that you have backup power on all cell sites, etc.,” he said.