AT&T confirmed to Light Reading it selected Union Wireless to build FirstNet services for public-safety users across rural Wyoming.
"Union will help build out additional LTE coverage across rural communities, adding Band 14 spectrum and AT&T commercial LTE spectrum bands to cellular sites," an AT&T spokesperson wrote in response to questions on the topic.
Union Wireless is one of the many smaller US wireless carriers that operates a network built with equipment from China's Huawei. Officials from Union told the FCC late last year that the only way to change that situation would be to replace its existing network with a completely new one.
When questioned about Union's ties to China's Huawei – widely considered a major security threat to US interests – an AT&T representative said that Huawei equipment would not be part of Union's FirstNet efforts. "AT&T will complete a detailed inspection of each cell site location to help ensure proper equipment use and deployment prior to turning a site on-air," the representative wrote. "Once each site is live, all FirstNet traffic will flow through the FirstNet physically separate and highly secure network core, providing first responders with specialized capabilities like priority and preemption."
This isn't the first time AT&T has partnered with an operator with a history of using Huawei equipment. As Light Reading reported last year, AT&T selected Viaero to build FirstNet services across parts of rural Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. AT&T said at the time that Viaero wouldn't use Huawei equipment for the project.
It also appears that AT&T's first announced rural FirstNet partner, ATN International's Commnet Wireless, is also involved in the Huawei issue. Executives from ATN International joined those from Viaero, the Competitive Carriers Association, Ericsson and Triangle Communications to meet with FCC officials recently over the agency's plan to rip out Huawei equipment from US networks. Officials from ATN International did not immediately respond to questions from Light Reading about whether the company uses equipment from Huawei.
However, ATN International confirmed in its recent earnings report that its FirstNet network buildout efforts have continued during the pandemic, but "the overall timing of the build schedule has been delayed." As a result, the company said that it currently expects revenues from the program to begin in late 2020 and continue through 2021. AT&T inked an agreement with ATN International worth $167.5 million last year for coverage in the Southwest.
The FCC is seeking as much as $2 billion for a program that would finance the complete removal of Huawei equipment from the networks of smaller US wireless network operators like Viaero and Union Wireless. The program is part of the US government's widespread efforts to block Huawei's business domestically and influence the vendor's position globally over concerns the company's products can be used for spying by the Chinese government.
AT&T is reportedly required to use other providers to construct the FirstNet network in rural areas. The FirstNet network is designed to be used primarily by first responders like police and firefighters; AT&T claims more than 1 million FirstNet customers. An AT&T representative confirmed that the operator has inked deals with four rural wireless network operators so far to build FirstNet services: Commnet, Viaero, Union Wireless and Docomo Pacific, for operations in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.