Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) officials have initiated negotiations with a vendor to deploy an LTE network for first responders in the Los Angeles area, according to LA-RICS Executive Director Patrick Mallon.

“Negotiations have begun, as scheduled,” Mallon said last week during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

Mallon declined to identify the name of the vendor. Two vendors submitted bids to build the LA-RICS LTE system this fall, and Mallon indicated that the goal was to begin negotiating with one of the vendors by the end of November.

LA-RICS is one of only two entities—the state of New Mexico is the other—that has signed a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet to use the 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 700 MHz band that is licensed to FirstNet for the purpose of supporting a nationwide broadband network for public safety. As a condition of that agreement, the LA-RICS project must integrate with the nationwide LTE network that FirstNet eventually will build.

LA-RICS is funding the 232-site project primarily with $154.6 million in federal grants from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

On Aug. 13, Mallon and other LA-RICS officials made a presentation to the FirstNet board to outline the long-term communications plan for LA-RICS that includes the use of both P25 and LTE technologies.

Mallon said the LTE project is critical for public-safety communications, because L.A.-area jurisdictions are required to vacate their LMR operations from the T-Band spectrum (470-512 MHz) by 2021, and there is not enough spectrum available in other bands to simply migrate existing narrowband systems. Instead, LA-RICS hopes to offload enough non-mission-critical voice traffic to the LTE system to allow mission-critical voice communications to be carried over narrowband public-safety channels in the UHF and 700 MHz bands.

LA-RICS had received bids for its public-safety LTE project prior to this submitted this fall.

In 2011, LA-RICS selected Raytheon as the primary contractor to build both the LMR and LTE networks. However, amid protests from Motorola Solutions, attorneys determined that there were problems with the procurement procedure and called for the bidding process to be restarted before a contract was finalized with Raytheon. After Congress passed legislation in 2012 creating FirstNet and the NTIA implemented its freeze on public-safety LTE projects, the LA-RICS board decided to bid the LMR and LTE projects separately.

NTIA lifted its freeze on the BTOP grants awarded to LA-RICS on Aug. 11, enabling LA-RICS to proceed with a procurement process for the public-safety LTE project.

LA-RICS signed a contract with Motorola Solutions to build the P25 network at a cost that could total $149.6 million, if all phases of the plan are deployed. Shortly after, LA-RICS issued an RFP for the LTE network.