Verizon Launches Competitor to AT&T-Run Public Safety Network

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By Kyle Daly

Verizon Communications Inc. is looking to sidestep lingering questions surrounding state-level alternatives to a planned nationwide first-responder network by building a competing network.

The move pits Verizon against AT&T Inc., which aims to start building out the long-planned FirstNet network this year after winning a 25-year contract to run it. FirstNet is intended to serve as a dedicated channel for first responders around the country.

Verizon’s Aug. 16 announcement also sets it against companies such as Rivada Networks that are looking to woo individual states to opt out of FirstNet and enlist them to build a network that would be interoperable with it.

The Federal Communications Commission voted in June on its rules for reviewing and approving states’ requests to opt out of FirstNet. But the FCC set aside the question of whether states that opt out will be allowed to build their own core first-responder networks or simply build radio access networks that would connect first responders to the central FirstNet network

The agency will likely have to make a decision on that question this year to avoid disrupting the process of states choosing to opt in or out, Critical Communications Insights analyst Ken Rehbehn told Bloomberg BNA.

How the FCC decides the issue could affect the scale and comprehensiveness of the state-level networks that companies like Rivada can build. Verizon is hoping to get around that by building its own nationwide core network outside of the FirstNet framework.

“This allows us to help solve the issue without aggressively supporting opt-outs at the state level,” Mike Maiorana, Verizon Enterprise Solutions’ senior vice president of public sector markets, told Bloomberg BNA. “By creating this private core, we’re very optimistic that it will satisfy our state customers’ needs.”

Verizon currently leads the public safety market. “It’s not surprising that, with AT&T having secured the FirstNet contract, Verizon would look to disrupt that and retain some of the business for themselves,” said Tim Farrar, an analyst and founder of Telecom Media Finance Associates Inc. But it’s not yet clear if that effort will pay off. And, Farrar said, they also risk “annoying people in the government and the FCC who’ve been trying to get FirstNet off the ground for so many years.”

An AT&T spokesman said the company was confident that FirstNet will be competitive.

“What we’re offering to public safety through our private-public partnership will exceed anything they’ve previously been offered in the marketplace,” AT&T spokesman Eric Ryan said.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment.

Verizon sees the plan as potentially supporting FirstNet rather than simply competing against it, Maiorana said. The company would be helping realize the vision of a reliable, dedicated network for first responders, he said. Verizon also plans to make its network interoperable with any radio access networks running on FirstNet, even if not the core FirstNet network itself.

Rivada Networks believes Verizon’s strategy could help Rivada win over states still mulling whether to join FirstNet, company spokesman Brian Carney told Bloomberg BNA.

“We welcome the competition and see this as a major confirmation of something we’ve been saying all along, which is that opt-out is a real option for states,” he said. “We suspect there were a few states that opted in early and may have some buyer’s remorse.”

FirstNet announced Aug. 15 that Kansas had opted in to the network, becoming the 14th state to do so.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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