FirstNet tops 2.5 million connections and 17,000 agencies, AT&T exec says
FirstNet continued its steady subscriber growth during the first half of the year, supporting more than 17,000 public-safety agencies with more than 2.5 million connections, according to an executive from AT&T, the contractor building and maintaining the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).
AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh provided the updated FirstNet-adoption metrics today, which represent gains compared the more than 16,000 agencies and the 2.2 million-plus connections that AT&T reported for FirstNet at the end of the first quarter. AT&T continues to be ahead of the contracted schedule in the deployment of cell sites supporting public-safety LTE coverage using the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority.
“We’re ahead of all of our commitments with the FirstNet Authority and all of the … buildout commitments and payments, as a result of that,” McElfresh said today during AT&T’s quarterly conference call, which was webcast.
McElfresh did not supply any specific figures regarding the Band 14 deployment, but the carrier giant announced in February that it had completed more than 90% of the coverage required in its contract with the FirstNet Authority. AT&T was almost a year ahead of the contracted schedule at that time, and company officials have said that the contracted FirstNet buildout will be done by the scheduled completion date in March 2023.
AT&T does not release precise totals regarding FirstNet adoption, but the latest figures mark the sixth consecutive quarter in which it appears that FirstNet has gained at least 200,000 connections and at least 1,000 subscribing agencies. AT&T’s reports indicate that FirstNet has gained about 1 million connections and 4,000 subscribing agencies compared to the figures released a year ago.
McElfresh declined to state what percent of the FirstNet subscriber base are new to AT&T and how many are previous AT&T customers that migrated to FirstNet, but he said that FirstNet is part of the carrier’s growth story.
“We are growing market share in a highly competitive wireless business,” McElfresh said. “FirstNet has been a critical element for us to take share and unseat possibly other carriers who have long held a strong position in public safety. So that program continues to perform very strong, and we don’t see any signs of that slowing down.”
AT&T was one of three primary bidders—and the only nationwide carrier among that group—that sought to build and maintain the NPSBN through a contract with the FirstNet Authority.
Under the 2012 law that established the FirstNet Authority, the FirstNet system is supposed to be a financially self-sustaining network, even though Congress provided just $7 billion for a project that experts estimated would cost more than $50 billion to build.
But the FirstNet Authority effectively assured its financial security by signing its contract with AT&T in March 2017 after completing a procurement process. 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 NPSBN 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 $15 billion is slated to fund enhancements to the FirstNet system, such as development of a FirstNet 5G core and enhancements to the fleet of deployable assets.