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.
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