Last month, Verizon announced it will build a dedicated public-safety core in its network in 2018, as well as provide first responders with the same levels of priority and preemption as AT&T will to FirstNet public-safety subscribers. While there has been considerable discussion within the public-safety community whether core-to-core interoperability will be enabled with the FirstNet core, AT&T and FirstNet officials have indicated that such an approach with other carriers is not planned.

Today, Stephenson discussed the criteria that a vendor providing an alternative radio access network (RAN) to an “opt-out” state or territory must meet to ensure that first responders have seamless interoperability, no matter what state they are in at a given time.

“Companies that come in and want to participate [in FirstNet], they are obviously welcome and free to do that, but they are going to have to be interoperable at all levels with AT&T,” Stephenson said. “And their services are going to have to operate within this spectrum band that the government granted to us—we call it Band 14. So, there is a lot of complexity in terms of how somebody else would come in and compete here.”

Currently, AT&T has “very low market share” within the public-safety community, but the company views the FirstNet award as a chance to change that situation, Stephenson said.

“We view this as a nice opportunity for us to take share in terms of the selling services into the municipalities to police forces, the fire stations, the fire departments, and EMS around the country,” he said.

“We like where we are in this process. We think we are in a very good position, first of all, to get the network built, and second of all, to take significant share in these municipality and state first-responder communities.”

Stephenson also reiterated some of the key benefits that AT&T expects to realize while deploying the FirstNet system, noting that company will receive $6.5 billion in funding from the federal government and an opportunity to leverage 40 MHz of fallow AWS-3 and WCS spectrum when deploying infrastructure that utilizes the 20 MHz of 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet.

“The first $6.5 billion of this build is reimbursed to AT&T,” Stephenson said. “So, bottom line, the government is financing or paying for AT&T to build this core network.

“While we are up on the cell sites—and this is an interesting point—we have 60 MHz of spectrum that we have acquired over the last few years … While we are on the cell site to build FirstNet, we are turning on all of the spectrum—lighting it all up. And so, we are creating a very dense spectrum portfolio that is fully lighted on our network, a very robust network, backup power and so forth. This will be done over the next two or three years. It's a very exciting opportunity.”