FirstNet: A Billion-Dollar Boondoggle?

FirstNet is still on the starting blocks and seems to have been technologically outstripped by existing commercial networks.

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

August 26, 2016

2 Min Read
FirstNet: A Billion-Dollar Boondoggle?

FirstNet -- the network that was supposed to connect first responders across the US -- may just turn out to be a $47 billion boondoggle that never actually goes live.

This is the conclusion in an article by Stephen Brill in the September issue of The Atlantic. Brill has several articles about the fallout from 9/11 a decade and a half on that are all worth the read. (See Why LTE Isn't a No-Brainer for Utilities – Yet.)

The FirstNet first-responder network idea was originally tabled to address the idea that police and firefighters could not connect with each others' radios on 9/11. Brill describes this as something of an "urban myth."

"Problems with fire-department communications mostly had to do with the inability of fire commanders to communicate with their troops because repeater devices installed in the Trade Center to enable two-way radios to penetrate the building's thick walls and work from its high floors failed in the intense fire," he writes.

In other words, nothing would have worked.

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In which case, Brill argues that the interoperability problem has been solved, as far as it can be, in the 15 years since 9/11. To whit, why would police and fire departments spend more on FirstNet when they can already buy smartphones that connect them to their colleagues?

"It is difficult to imagine jurisdictions like New York, which have long since solved interoperability, deciding to buy into a new, expensive FirstNet," Brill notes.

Nonetheless, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are expected to be among the companies to bid on operating the new network. It will operate in the 700MHz D-Band. The idea of developing a 4G first-responder network at 700MHz was first suggested in 2006. (See What Will Play in the 700 MHz Band?)

In the end, Brill describes FirstNet as an "over-hyped problem" that has been overtaken by advances in technology. What do you think, readers?

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Dan Jones

Mobile Editor

Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials.

But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the Light Reading team in 2002 he was an award-winning cult hit on Broadway (with four 'Toni' awards, two 'Emma' gongs and a 'Brian' to his name) with his one-man show, "Dan Sings the Show Tunes."

His perfectly crafted blogs, falling under the "Jonestown" banner, have been compared to the works of Chekhov. But only by Dan.

He lives in Brooklyn with cats.

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