FirstNet Authority signs $218 million task order for core upgrade, deployable assets
FirstNet Authority task orders worth $218 million have been executed that will fund AT&T’s initial upgrades to prepare the FirstNet network for 5G services, as well as to expand the FirstNet portfolio of deployable solutions to include more SatCOLTs and new assets, including mobile command vehicles.
Officials for both the FirstNet Authority and AT&T confirmed to IWCE’s Urgent Communications that the task orders have been signed, as approved last week by FirstNet Authority board members. Financial details about the two task orders are not available, but multiple sources have confirmed that most of the $218 in approved network-investment funds will be used for the core upgrade, which is the first step to making the FirstNet system ready to support 5G services for public safety in the future.
However, the more immediate impact from the network investment will be from an expansion of the deployable assets that are available to FirstNet subscribers at no additional cost—one of the most popular aspects of the FirstNet offering, according to FirstNet officials and public-safety end users.
“Beyond expanding our original 72 dedicated portable cell sites, next year, we’ll be able to bring public safety agencies new types of assets for their response efforts, like mobile command vehicles,” Jason Porter, senior vice president of AT&T’s FirstNet program, wrote in a recent blog. “In the event of an emergency, a mobile command vehicle can be stationed near the scene or disaster and provide a central communications hub for first responders. It’s just one of the ways FirstNet continues to innovate for public safety.”
When asked about details regarding the mobile command centers, an AT&T spokesperson provided the following statement to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“Beyond expanding our original 72 dedicated portable cell sites, next year, we’re bringing public safety agencies mobile command vehicles for their use,” according to the statement. “By providing connectivity to the FirstNet network, as well as work stations, television service, Wi-Fi, camper facilities (such as a microwave and refrigerator) and more, incident command will be able to use these vehicles as a central communications hub for first responders on the scene of an emergency or disaster.”
In his blog, Porter noted that the existing FirstNet deployable assets—72 SatCOLTs, three “flying COWs,” and one FirstNet One aerostat—have been requested often by public safety to provide broadband communications.
“With a dedicated fleet of more than 76 deployable network assets—available at no additional charge—we’re providing fire, EMS, law enforcement and more with unthrottled access to connectivity when and where they need it, including in the immediate aftermath of a storm when commercial power and other infrastructure may be disrupted,” Porter stated in the blog.
“In 2018 alone, FirstNet supported public safety during 100+ emergency operations. And last year, those numbers quadrupled, accounting for more than 450 requests for deployable support by public safety agencies. We’re only halfway through 2020, and public safety has turned to FirstNet deployable network assets for additional support during 200+ emergencies and planned events, including supporting the COVID-19 response operations at quarantine sites, field hospitals, testing sites and EOCs.”
Funding for the $218 million investment comes from the contractual arrangement between the FirstNet and AT&T, which was designed to make the FirstNet system financially self-sustaining, so it would not require additional government funding.
The 25-year deal provides AT&T with access to the 20 MHz of prime 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority as well as potentially $6.5 billion in funds generated from FCC spectrum auctions.
In return, AT&T is responsible for building and maintaining the nationwide FirstNet system and making annual payments totaling $18 billion to the FirstNet Authority over the 25-year period of the contract. Of this $18 billion in AT&T payments, about $3 billion is expected to fund FirstNet Authority operations, and about $15 billion is slated to fund enhancements to the FirstNet system—the first of which were approved last week by the FirstNet Authority board for the core upgrade and the new deployable assets.
Both the core upgrade and the additional deployable assets are being executed through a task order with AT&T, but FirstNet Authority officials have said that some future network investments could be subject to a competitive procurement process. In SEC filings, AT&T has indicated that the company believes AT&T will receive most of the approximately $15 billion dedicated toward network investment during the 25-year life of the contract with the FirstNet Authority.