AT&T Exec: FirstNet Contract Requires Undisclosed Number of Sites to be Built
Tuesday, December 12, 2017 | Comments

AT&T has a set number of new tower sites that it is required to build across the nation under its contract with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). If a state negotiates more sites as part of its opt-in determination than in its original state plan, then that could potentially take sites from other states that haven’t yet opted in or confirmed site numbers, an AT&T executive said.

“There’s a finite number of sites I’m trying to stick to during the opt-in process,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T – FirstNet. “I don’t have unlimited resources.”

Sambar declined to give the number of sites AT&T is required to build nationwide under its FirstNet contract.

Documents from Vermont show that AT&T agreed to add an additional six sites — 30 total for the state and an increase from an original 24 sites — if the state opted in before the end of November. Vermont’s governor accepted the FirstNet state plan Nov. 29.

If an agency within an opt-in state tells AT&T it needs coverage in a specific area before it will sign up for FirstNet service, then AT&T could still add a site later to ensure that coverage, Sambar said.

An AT&T spokesman said 95 percent or more of the U.S. population will be covered by band 14, which will be deployed on most of AT&T’s existing sites, including those that are at or near capacity. Band 14 will also be deployed on new sites to cover rural areas that are unserved or underserved. “This is in addition to using our existing LTE bands to support FirstNet,” the spokesman said.

Looking beyond the Dec. 28 opt-out deadline, Sambar said 2018 will see a lot of growth around applications, not just for big agencies but also for smaller agencies, such as volunteer fire departments, that haven’t had the financial resources or IT expertise to capitalize on data.

AT&T is contractually required to set up a separate application ecosystem and app store for FirstNet. “The purpose is to vet the applications,” he said. “That doesn’t mean those developers can’t develop for other stores.”

Sambar said pre-emption is available to FirstNet subscribers on the commercial core, and at the end of March, AT&T will roll out the FirstNet core just for FirstNet traffic, and it will also have priority and pre-emption. “There are hundreds of deliverables in March,” Sambar said.

Last week during the FirstNet board meeting, James Mitchell, FirstNet Network Program Office (NPO) director, said about 300 items need to be completed to make sure the FirstNet network core becomes a reality.

Sambar said AT&T has been working closely with Motorola Solutions to enhance the Kodiak product, which is powering the AT&T Enhanced Push to Talk (EPTT) platform for FirstNet subscribers. Motorola bought Kodiak Networks last year. Sambar said AT&T's mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) technology will be compliant with Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards.

A FirstNet spokesman said AT&T will explore additional network-based PTT solutions once the 3GPP MCPTT interoperability standard is published. Interoperable over-the-top PTT applications will also be permissible. He noted that devices, accessories, interoperability with LMR, application programming interface (API) integration with public-safety apps and deployment support services are all important to achieve MCPTT. 

Sambar also addressed the timing for tracking first responders. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) said in a position paper that FirstNet should implement location-based services to track first responders by June 2019. Initial state plans noted that enhanced location would be available five years after contract award or March 2022, NPSTC said.

Sambar said AT&T hasn’t found the right location technology solution yet. The company has met with four location technology vendors and evaluated both hardware- and software-based solutions. Hardware technology includes a beacon in a device but the technology hasn’t been tested in burning buildings. He said the accuracy of software-based solutions isn’t quite good enough to meet FCC 9-1-1 indoor location accuracy requirements.

“We want the right solution, and as soon as we find it, we will roll it out,” he said.

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Comments
On 1/3/18, Larry Shaefer said:
Wonder how I contact AT&T FirstNet about tower space in Texas.

On 12/22/17, Mark Neale said:
An undisclosed number of sites is troublesome. That undisclosed number might be 10 with Vermont getting 6. I'm sure the number is probably larger but since it isn't made public, it is suspect.

On 12/13/17, Leon van der Linde said:
A good two-way radio site can give you an average coverage of 2,500 square miles.
A good cellphone site using Long Term Evolution (LTE) gives you an average coverage of 1.5 square miles.
I think you need some impressive amount of sites to give you coverage of the country. I hope the first responder network used a good calculator when they decided to go to LTE.
Quickly calculated, they need 1,666 LTE sites for each standard two-way radio site to get decent coverage.
I think AT&T will have to review their finite sites. Everybody is in for a massive shock.

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