"We are also going to make available all of our spectrum bands," said Chris Sambar, senior vice president for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). This means that 5G bands will be opened up as they come online, although it is unlikely that emergency workers would be among the first to get 5G devices.
AT&T has previously said that its 5G service will start to arrive in late 2018 or early 2019. (See AT&T Expects 5G in Late 2018 or Early '19.)
"They may connect to the street corner small cell, which is a 5G [millimeter wave] small cell ... which may give them ten times the speed of their band 14 [4G LTE connection]," Sambar said during questioning at the hearing in Washington, D.C.
He said that initial "pre-emption" capabilities on AT&T's existing network are expected to be available by year's end. This will allow first responders to commandeer whatever 4G bandwidth is available on AT&T's network in affected areas when dealing with a natural disaster or terrorist attack, something that has been described as the most requested feature of the entire FirstNet public/private enterprise.
The December 28 deadline for states to opt out of the FirstNet program is drawing near. Twenty-eight governors have still to make a decision.
AT&T is getting $6.5 billion to build out the network. Sambar says that the operator expects to spend $40 billion building and maintaining the network over the 25-year term of the contract.
Separately, Sambar blasted Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) for submitting a letter to the hearing describing FirstNet as mainly a "spectrum deal."
"For all intents and purposes, FirstNet was established as a spectrum deal, with the winning bidder required to commercialize the 700 MHz spectrum in order to fund the construction of the network," Don Brittingham, VP of public safety policy for Verizon, wrote in the letter. "Verizon chose not to respond to the RFP because of that, as they have never had an interest in FirstNet's spectrum and could not justify the investment required to build out spectrum they had no intention of using commercially."
"I personally take expection to this," said Sambar, citing his millitary service. "This is not a spectrum deal ... this is about serving first responders," he added, while allowing that AT&T is a commercial entity that expects to make money.
The hearing was largely harmonious, however, with all the speakers citing the recent attacks in New York City and Las Vegas, as well as the natural disasters in California, Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas, as crucial reasons have to a modern, reliable and interoperable network for first responders.
"This is something where there is bipartisan agreement," said Republican chairman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee.
Which was mostly true, but not entirely. John Stevens, the statewide interoperability coordinator for the New Hampshire department of safety, said that the plan that his state has developed with Rivada Networks for a first responder network was "far superior to FirstNet."
"We are the only state in the country that has an alternative plan in place," he told the hearing.
In September 2016, New Hampshire signed a deal with Rivada to develop a safety network alternative, if the state opts out of FirstNet. Stevens said that the FirstNet network maps he saw did not provide enough coverage in rural parts of the state.
He also complained about the restrictive deadlines: 90 days to make a decision, and 180 days to put out an RFP for the safety network if a state opts out. "The timeline that was provided was unrealistic and unworkable," Stevens complained to the hearing.
"In some ways, FirstNet seems to have lost its intended mission," Stevens remarked. "FirstNet demands transparency but isn't transparent itself."
New Hampshire hasn't officially opted out of FirstNet yet but has established a committee to consider other options. Twenty-six states and two US terroritories have so far opted into FirstNet, with the latest being Oklahoma, as of Wednesday evening.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading