FirstNet, U.K. ESN Pushed Timelines Signal More Positive Outcomes
Tuesday, November 01, 2016 | Comments
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announcement last week that it would not award a partner for its request for proposals (RFP) acquisition process by Nov. 1 wasn’t a huge surprise considering the contract’s size, scope and uniqueness.

The timeframe for the RFP is up in the air, with FirstNet CEO Mike Poth saying only the award will be “beyond the Nov. 1 target date.” Does that mean by the end of the month, the year or even later? I don’t think anyone outside FirstNet — or many within — knows for sure.

One confirmed fact about the award came from pdvWireless, which said in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, that the company was informed Oct. 17 by the contracting officer for the Department of the Interior (DOI) that pdvWireless was no longer considered for the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) award.

Even before Poth’s announcement, all the players and potential players had opinions and information to share, albeit nothing on the record. AT&T is assumed to be a bidder for the RFP because executives from the carrier said that it planned to participate before the RFP was released. The carrier has been tight lipped about FirstNet since then, but separately announced last week that it plans to merge with Time Warner. Such a deal will be no easy task with regulatory approvals to undertake, shareholders to appease and integration plans to develop for the two large companies. With that looming distraction, will FirstNet look elsewhere for its RFP award?

Rivada Mercury, a confirmed FirstNet bidder, would certainly like to think so. The partnership between Rivada Networks, Harris, an unnamed nationwide carrier and several other manufacturers, continues to promote its FirstNet benefits. Interestingly, Rivada Networks won a state RFP for a public-safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) radio access network (RAN) from the New Hampshire Department of Safety in September. Under the agreement, Rivada will develop a plan for the state to compare with the state plan from FirstNet, but state officials emphasized the agreement does not suggest the state plans to opt out of FirstNet.

The other looming unknown is the U.S. election next week. Beyond this being the most untraditional presidential election in my lifetime, a national election brings new federal officials who impact federal agencies and programs. FirstNet is a federal entity, regardless of the fact that it was created to be “independent.” There is always a learning curve for politicians on industry matters.

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, the country’s nationwide public-safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) project is underway, but U.K. officials also decline to provide a set timeline. Richard Hewlett, deputy director, Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) Crime, Policing and Fire Group, last week said quality is more important than timing for the U.K. Emergency Services Network (ESN).

“They key thing for us is around quality, so we’re committed to rolling out the ESN and completing the transition as soon as possible but only when it’s acceptable,” he said during a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) call. “It will take as long as it will take so users are comfortable with services. We’ll go as fast as we can as long as the users are with us.”

Although Hewlett didn’t confirm a delay, his comments are a change from the original firm timeline. Earlier this year, U.K. officials said the transition from the nationwide TETRA network to the LTE network would begin next year with the ESN fully adopted and in use by all three emergency services by the end of 2019.

The new U.K. timeline perspective is good, and the fact that FirstNet is not rushing an award is also positive. With projects of this size and scope and as the first in the world of their kind, it’s better to get them right than to meet unrealistic deadlines.

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