While Verizon’s announced proposal may sound similar to the FirstNet system being built by AT&T—AT&T will have its public-safety LTE core operational by March 2018, while Verizon stated its new core will be built sometime next year--attempting to match AT&T’s FirstNet offering may require more resources than Verizon officials anticipated, Sambar said.

“There’s a level of investment required to match what we’re doing, and I don’t know if Verizon’s making that investment or not—they haven’t disclosed it,” Sambar said. “But it’s significant, if you look at the size of this [nationwide FirstNet] contract and the level of investment that AT&T has committed to putting into it--$40 billion. I don’t know if Verizon’s willing to make that investment.”

As an example, AT&T spent “hundreds of millions of dollars to build a core with encryption,” Sambar said.

“I have read numerous articles about what Verizon is committing to—and, frankly, it’s unclear what they are committing to—but I suspect that it is not the level of differentiation that first responders are going to see on [the FirstNet] network.”

Many in the public-safety industry have indicated that they would like to see a competitive alternative to FirstNet for mission-critical broadband. FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher today that “competition is always great” and that basic interoperability between FirstNet and other LTE networks should not be a problem, but he also emphasized that FirstNet is designed to be different from commercial offerings.

“If you are not on a FirstNet subscription, you will not have the same capabilities as the public-safety users on FirstNet—we need to be clear about that,” Bratcher said during the “FirstNet Town Hall” session at APCO 2017.

Bratcher also noted the importance of a dedicated FirstNet public-safety core “will drive all of the ubiquitous services out of the core network. All of these features that are going to take advantage of QPP will be driven from that core implementation, with the subscriber database and the policy-and-control function within the core.”

Sambar said the differentiated capabilities provided to FirstNet subscribers will be significant, including:

FirstNet’s application store: “The FirstNet public-safety app store is for AT&T FirstNet subscribers, period. We’re vetting them for functionality and for security, because we’re going to be putting them on a secure network and a secure core. So, we don’t want something on there that’s going to be dangerous to first responders.”

FirstNet advocacy for public safety: “You’ve got a federal entity that’s got a contractual commitment with us. They’re going to hold us accountable to perform in accordance to the contract.

“Public-safety entities sometimes go to us [with questions and responses], and sometimes they go to FirstNet, and then FirstNet comes to us. We’re going to be responsive, regardless who comes to us. But, hey, we’ve got a big federal entity watching us.”