FirstNet is assessing responses to its requests for information (RFI) while simultaneously working with representatives of 56 states and territories in a process that could result in some states making their opt-in, opt-out decisions as early as next fall, key FirstNet officials said during the LTE North America conference in Dallas.

Based on the logistics associated with the series of tasks that need to be completed before a plan can be presented to a state or territory—most importantly, engaging the officials in those jurisdictions—fall 2014 is likely the earliest timeframe that a state would make its decision on whether it will opt out of FirstNet, FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino said.

“There’s going to be a lot of effort—a lot of engineering, a lot of communication, and a lot of coordination between now and that fall [2014] timeframe to get those [state plans] presented,” D’Agostino said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

One of the first tasks that needs to be accomplished is for FirstNet staff to complete the evaluation of more than 300 responses to 11 RFIs that address potential solutions to myriad network, device and business-plan issues associated with the nationwide broadband system being designed by FirstNet. Some of that work is done, but it likely will be early 2014 before the process is completed, D’Agostino said.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to announce an ultimate network design,” he said. “That means that we’ll announce at that point, ‘These are some of the key elements we’ll be looking for; these are some of the tests we’ll be doing’—some of the pilots, features and functionality—and roll all of that forward from there.”

Board member Craig Farrill—who also is FirstNet’s acting chief technical officer (CTO)—said the timetable is a result of the significant response that FirstNet received from its RFIs.

“Just to give you an order of magnitude of the amount of stuff we have, we have over 25,000 pages of material from 256 suppliers, so it’s like reading part of a library,” Farrill said during an interview. “People think, ‘Well, [FirstNet] got a couple of pages from everybody.’ Well, no—25,000 pages takes a little while to read, and we’re not just reading it—we’re actually analyzing the applicability to us.

“The stage for us is to keep doing the market research. That [the RFIs] was a tool for us to do market research. We’re also spending time with the people, so we actually understand what the writing said. That’s where the time tends to go.”

At the same time, FirstNet is working to finalize the data-collection guidance that states and territories need to follow as part of the second phase of the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) for FirstNet planning.

“We’re working that right now, and we have a first cut at that,” D’Agostino said. “What’s interesting about that is, as we continue to look at the network and refine our thinking, those [data-collection] requirements change.

 “What we’re looking at now is how can we get the list to as few critical items as possible to engage that first iteration of state conversation? Then, as SLIGP comes on and other things happen, expand that. But how do we get to that first piece and continue to feed that back into this iterative cycle of communication, development of the plan and building that strategy together, as we move forward with the state?”