Verizon hopes its planned public-safety network and applications will interoperate with the FirstNet system—even committing to including FirstNet 700 MHz Band 14 operations in Verizon devices—to give public safety a competitive option, but the carrier has yet to begin formal discussions with FirstNet, according to a Verizon official.

“I think it’s important to focus on the benefits of competition, because that is—and has been—the significant driver in the industry,” Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public-safety policy, said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Whether you are talking about public-safety communications or anything else, the reason we advance, the reason why things are innovated and prices continue to stay low is because there’s good, robust competition.

“I think that is why it’s important that FirstNet understand that just having a single network for public safety really is not the best model for public safety. There ought to be multiple networks, multiple companies investing in public safety and—assuming that they can be interoperable—then public safety wins.”

Last month, Verizon announced plans to deploy a dedicated public-safety LTE core network next year and provide its public-safety subscribers with the same priority and preemption functionality that FirstNet has promised its subscribers across the LTE network of its nationwide contractor, AT&T.

While many public-safety representatives have applauded Verizon for its plans and the prospect of competition, initial signs from FirstNet and AT&T provide little indication that interoperability with Verizon or other commercial carriers is envisioned. Last week, an AT&T official noted that FirstNet interoperating with Verizon or other carriers could lead to a “slippery slope” that could compromise the security of public-safety FirstNet subscribers.

Brittingham expressed disagreement with the AT&T position.

“I think the ‘slippery slope’ that AT&T is suggesting here is that, with a multi-core arrangement—and by that, I mean having more than one core (the FirstNet core that AT&T will build and potentially other cores that could be part of a network or a set of networks that could serve public safety)—they believe that there is something inherently insecure about that,” Brittingham said. “Certainly, we do not agree with that.

“In fact, I will note that the arrangement that AT&T has agreed to with FirstNet is—in and of itself—a multi-core arrangement. They will have a public-safety core that they will build for FirstNet and a commercial core that they obviously already operate today for their commercial users, and those two things will be interconnected. They’ve made it clear—and FirstNet’s made it clear—that their commercial core, under a failure condition that might impact the FirstNet public-safety core, [would be used] as a backup.

“Clearly, they’re going to be connected, and they need to be able to interoperate with one another. If AT&T thinks there is some sort of—what they refer to as—“seams” between different cores that somehow create problems, then obviously it has that problem and has to deal with itself.”

Verizon understands that “network security is crucial” and is confident that it can meet any security requirements that FirstNet and AT&T would establish as a condition for interoperability, Brittingham said.

“We haven’t met with FirstNet yet. We certainly hope to very soon,” he said. “But certainly we would have every expectation that they would have [requirements]… in terms of security and certain standards that have to be satisfied, as we do on our own networks.

“Not having spoken with them, obviously I don’t know what their requests might be, but we certainly expect them to have a set of requirements that the think would be important to make sure that the network is secure. I don’t anticipate that [Verizon would have a problem] satisfying that. So, I don’t consider it an impediment at all to reaching an agreement with FirstNet.”