AT&T Exec Expects to Hit Second FirstNet Buildout Milestone by Year-End
Friday, March 01, 2019 | Comments

An AT&T executive said that the company expects to reach 60 percent completion of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) broadband network by the end of 2019. That 60 percent completion is the next milestone laid out in AT&T’s contract with FirstNet and would trigger a second reimbursement payment of more than $1 billion, said AT&T Chief Financial Officer (CFO) John Stephens at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.

AT&T met its first milestone of 30 percent completion in September and was at 40 percent completion at the end of 2018, Stephens said. AT&T received $1.4 billion in reimbursements from FirstNet in 2018.

The AT&T contract with FirstNet stipulates that 60 percent of the buildout be completed by the first quarter of 2020, but the project is running about six months ahead of schedule right now, Stephens said.

While reaching 60 percent completion by the end of the year is not guaranteed, Stephens said he thinks the company will reach that milestone.

“I would expect that we’ll get there, and I would hope that we would get further,” Stephens said. “We don’t want to race at all costs. We want to do this efficiently and effectively.”

At the end of 2018, AT&T had 450,000 FirstNet connections, which the company is pleased with given recent service launch, and many public-safety agencies have contracts with other providers that they can’t immediately get out of, Stephens said.

By the end of 2019, the FirstNet contract will have helped AT&T increase its spectral capacity by 50 percent since 2016, Stephens said.

“That gives us a significant advantage with the way we’re building this with this evolutionary step and multiple steps to 5G,” Stephens said. “Our customers who have our phones in their hands will see those benefits.”

As it builds out the FirstNet band 14 spectrum, as well as other spectrum that it owns, AT&T is putting up 5G-enabled equipment to help speed the transition to 5G technology.

“On the front end, we’re spending a little more, but it provides tremendous efficiency in getting to 5G,” Stephens said.

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