AT&T is raring to get moving with its FirstNet buildout as states continue to opt in, with executives this week noting that new spectrum from the project could go live as soon as later this year.
New Jersey became the sixth state to lock in participation in the project on Tuesday, a move the state’s Director of Homeland Security and Preparedness Jared Maples said “underscores New Jersey’s commitment to ensuring first responders are capable of meeting constantly evolving challenges.”
During Tuesday’s earnings call, AT&T CFO John Stephens said both the carrier and the states are “anxious” to get rolling on deployments. FirstNet spectrum in the participating states could go live as soon as later this year, he said.
“Work on the FirstNet network can begin once the state opts in, both hardware and software, and we’re setting up a new business operation, sales, marketing, customer care, to serve these customers,” Stephens commented. “We see this as a great opportunity for efficient expansion, not only by deploying 60 MHz of spectrum, but also by changing the curve of increasing tower costs.”
According to Stephens, AT&T has been working to create a “diverse community” of suppliers among equipment vendors and tower companies to help boost competition and bring costs for the project down. Stephens indicated there will be a “large number of devices” for first responders to choose from, including phones, cameras, and other connected devices. Those, he said, will be offered at “good price points.”
“We’re studying our options. We’re looking hard at new relationships. We’re open to new or independent operators who may want AT&T as a customer and support a new model,” Stephens added. “The point is there’s more than one way to get this work done, and we are committed to finding a way that meets the needs of our customers while keeping costs in line with industry economics.”
But AT&T is looking beyond the FirstNet build as just a vehicle to help improve coverage for first responders – Stephens said the carrier also views it as an opportunity to boost activity in the smart cities and Internet of Things segments to help government agencies manage other parts of their activities as well. Additionally, Stephens indicated the FirstNet build could help it slash any remaining roaming costs on the domestic side and help carry some of the network’s video traffic.
“I would tell you the opportunity is not only in the millions of potential customers out there with fire, police, safety, and other departments, but also quite frankly for all the related uses and whether we utilize this for a friends-and-family opportunity, whether we utilize this to sell smart cities, whether we utilize this to go in and where we have an improved network coverage and speed situation because of FirstNet, we go back in and double down on our sales efforts into the existing marketplace,” Stephens said.
“That’s what this provides,” he continued. “Whether once we have a FirstNet build complete, what part of that build would be able to handle video? Does this extend our ability to do fixed-to-wireless local loop that we’re already doing through the CAF II program and so on and so forth? I’m not giving any specific guidance, but I would suggest to you that it is real and it is something that we are excited about.”