FirstNet Buildout Could Finish Slightly Ahead of Schedule, AT&T Exec Says
Thursday, June 10, 2021 | Comments

An AT&T executive said that it is possible that the FirstNet buildout will finish ahead of the March 2023 completion date mandated in its contract with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority).

“Our target is to be done by that March 2023, but we’re on track to finish a little early,” said Jason Porter, president of public sector and FirstNet, AT&T, during the Cowen TMT Conference June 1. “But as you mentioned, we’re down to some really hard sites to build in rural areas. So it’s probably going to take up and close to the whole time.”

AT&T’s contract with FirstNet Authority sets a deadline of March 2023 for completion of the buildout and also sets other requirements, such as band 14 and rural buildout milestones. Presenter Colby Synesael, a senior research analyst with Cowen, asked Porter how many of AT&T’s 700,00 macro sites currently have FirstNet’s band 14 spectrum deployed.

“So, we don't disclose the number of sites that have Band 14 or the macro-small cell mix,” Porter said. “It's really for us about getting the coverage that our public-safety customers want. In our space with FirstNet, we're really guided by public safety. They tell us where they want it covered to make sure that public safety has it at the areas they need it the most. So, whether that's a traffic area -- a high-traffic area that might be known for accidents or a wildfire area, they really define where those square miles are, and that's where we need to populate.”

Synesael also asked Porter about band 14 and when that spectrum might be transitioned to support 5G as well as 4G. Porter noted that AT&T had received a task order from the FirstNet Authority for 5G last year and had delivered and launched a 5G core.

“Essentially, we are listening to the FirstNet Authority and to our Public Safety Advisory Council and our customers to determine the timeline and timeframe of moving band 14 to 5G,” Porter said. “So far, our customer base is very focused on making sure that it's reliable, dependable and that their service, they can count on it, which is why they want the stability of band 14 on LTE. I think as more and more use cases come out and a level of maturity is secured with 5G millimeter wave, then we would potentially move band 14, but no timing disclosed yet.”

In his comments, Porter also touted the growth that the FirstNet network continues to see. At the end of the first quarter, the network had 2.2 million connections more than 16,000 agencies using it.

“And honestly, we hit a new record for growth every quarter,” he said. “And, so it's been just a tremendous story to watch the first responders gain confidence and trust in FirstNet and start to adopt it at a faster and faster rate.”

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