Drilling Down Some Key Differences Between FirstNet and Verizon

By Richard Mirgon

I haven’t commented much in the past few months on Verizon’s efforts to maintain their presence in the public safety market and to compete with FirstNet. Much of what they have had to say is not much more than “me too” statements. As FirstNet grows and innovates, we hear a lot from Verizon about “I can do that” and “we’re the same” or as I like to say “me too”. Well as we know, they aren’t the same and they aren’t doing everything FirstNet can do.

Just to cover a couple of the basics, Verizon is a commercial network driven by stockholders and stock price. FirstNet as we all know is owned by public safety and governed by an independent board of directors, which includes first responders, and is housed under the U.S. Dept of Commerce. It has a robust public safety advisory committee made up of first responders. This is officially called the FirstNet Authority and more information is available on them at www.Firstnet.gov. AT&T is the entity that won the competitive contract to build and operate the network on behalf of the FirstNet Authority using spectrum owned by public safety via the FirstNet Authority. It should also be noted that there is no public documentation indicating that Verizon bid to build FirstNet.  I would also like to point out that when you pay your FirstNet bill a portion of that fee goes to the FirstNet Authority for its annual operation. With any other carrier such as Verizon 100% of your payment stays with that carrier to support their stockholders.

Recently, Donny Jackson did an interview (https://urgentcomm.com/2019/08/20/verizon-optimistic-about-position-in-the-public-safety-marketplace-company-exec-says/) with Mike Maiorana, Senior Vice President for Verizon’s public-sector unit, therefore I thought I would take this opportunity to offer some clarification or contrast on some of the points made by Maiorana.

One of the opening statements made was regarding how their “customer segment has trusted” them. I can only imagine that it is not the customer segment whose bandwidth they throttle during major disasters; nor is it the customer segment whose wireless service they shut down; nor is it the 911 network customers they had previously. (All this is clearly documented in my other editorials posted on this site.) As much as they clearly have a segment of customers who trust them, that universe has shrunk. Verizon has a clear history of focusing on the bottom line and abandoning public safety customers when it’s in their financial best interest.

Another point I find interesting is their ability to put “lipstick on a pig”. Maiorana talks about all the contracts they have won and to be fair he noted that they are multi-award contracts, but the fact is in one case they clearly lost to FirstNet. You see Verizon had an exclusive contract in Massachusetts which is why their market share is so high. What isn’t said is that FirstNet won on the new award also and is now on the State Contract.  Another statement was “We do have extremely high market share in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts … I would never commit to all, but it’s pretty close to all. This is a great indication that they want to keep it that way.” Now that it is no longer an exclusive for Verizon, let’s check back in a year and see how that worked out for them.

Maiorana goes on to make a number of statements about partnerships with companies like Axon, application development, mission critical push to talk, all of which are nothing more than “me too” statements. None of this would have risen to its current level if FirstNet had not been born. They do this simply to stay competitive and once it doesn’t pencil out in their bottom line it’s gone. I also think there is one significant question that hasn’t been asked or answered. How do you have mission critical push to talk or any mission critical application when public safety doesn’t have guaranteed, always on, top tier priority and preemption on the network? How do you do this without a hardened, dedicated, physically separated dedicated core? I am not a network engineer but my guess is you can’t.

Then the topic turns to deployables – a battle or debate Verizon can’t win. Maiorana is quoted as saying “deployables are not new,” noting that “Verizon has been using them to support public safety for years.” First off, note the word “support” indicating public safety isn’t the primary customer for their deployable. It is simply that they can be used for public safety. Everyone should understand that all carriers have deployables and they are designed with the intent to support network restoration in times of disaster that impact a carrier’s core network. They are not designed with the intent to be solely for public safety. The contrast here is that FirstNet has 72 dedicated public safety deployables available nationwide for FirstNet customers. These are built and designed exclusively for FirstNet public safety customers and are available at no charge to customers for disasters and planned events. Maybe Verizon will make this a “me too” offering for their public safety users.

Okay, so Verizon does have a solution according to Maiorana, “If a government agency wants to control and have in their fleet of assets a deployable, we will sell or lease them one.” Yep, you too can own your own Verizon deployable for a small fee of $100,000.00, $200,000.00 or more.

There is one thing I clearly agree with Maiorana on and it is that this segment is growing and I do believe a company can lose market share and still grow in this new market. The reason why is that we are now seeing more use, development and innovation in the public safety community/market. I also agree competition is good and provides public safety benefits. More than we have ever seen before, companies are stepping up to support public safety because they have found they benefit by doing so. But let’s understand that this has become a reality because of FirstNet, period.

Let me close by saying that I believe Maiorana does a respectful job of trying to move his company forward to benefit public safety. At the end of the day Verizon may believe it is “dedicated” to public safety, but the fact remains FirstNet “is Public Safety”.

Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to http://www.next-paradigm.com/about/

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.

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4 Comments on "Drilling Down Some Key Differences Between FirstNet and Verizon"

  1. Richard, your bias is showing just a little bit. Isn’t AT&T really the one saying ‘me too’ since Verizon already had band 13 and AT&T needed the band 14 to compete? Doesn’t a virtual core have a few advantages over an ‘old school’ physical core. It sure would be more valuable to get an honest & objective comparison between the two players.

    • Steve.

      Thanks for the comment and yes, I am bias as should every first responder. First, AT&T didn’t need band 14 as they have considerable spectrum holdings in the same range. Additionally, they don’t own Band 14, public safety does via the FirstNet Authority. Band 14 has been tied to public safety for over ten years. Before FirstNet it was aligned with the “Public Safety Spectrum Trust” (PSST) for first responder use. Now clearly there are advantages AT&T gains by having access to Band 14 as Verizon would have gotten, or any other carrier if they had bid to build FirstNet. Part of the design for FirstNet and the partnership was to create advantages (such as high-power radios) so there was an incentive to build and operate the network for public safety. Again, any carrier would have gotten those same advantage as an incentive.

      As to the core issue, there are no advantages to a “virtual core” and clear advantage for a separate private FirstNet Core. Those advantages include; always on priority, public safety grade security, local control over the FirstNet network and the requirement it meet public safety specification related to public safety grade. Verizon does none of that. Today when using lights and siren you get priority on the streets and hope people get out of the way. It’s just like using the Verizon virtual core. Wouldn’t it be better to have your own traffic lanes? That is what FirstNet provides with a dedicated core, always on priority and preemption.

      As for an honest and objective comparison, it was started by the PSST in 2006, validated by the Public Safety Alliance in 2009 and again confirmed based on the FirstNet bid specification developed by the FirstNet Authority, driven by a board of first responders supported by the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee. All which is extensively documented with whitepapers, FCC filings, public meetings and input from some of the best minds in public safety and the private sector.

      Verizon is trying to rewrite history and influence first responders to believe they are the same. They are not. Verizon is a commercial network. FirstNet is a public safety’s network. The FirstNet Authority governed by first responders, supported by first responder is the only public safety network. Let’s not confuse the fact that just because AT&T won the bid to build FirstNet that this is their commercial network, it is not. This is not the same as AT&T’s commercial network.

      With over 35 years in public safety and much of that as a first responder I would NEVER take a position that would put another first responder in jeopardy. I have too many friends who have died in the line duty to be disloyal. I have said many times that if FirstNet does not provide the coverage you need then go to the carrier that does. What I do know is that until FirstNet was created public safety’s only option was commercial services. That changed thanks to FirstNet. No carrier builds a better nationwide public safety network than FirstNet. We, public safety responders, are FirstNet.

      Thanks for the discussion.

  2. Thank you Richard for your informative response. I’ve been reluctant to consider AT&T and their FirstNet marketing – it has come across as very slimy, like a used car salesman, I almost want to take a shower afterward. I’ve always been supportive of the healthy competition inherent to the private sector; between this and their sales tactics, I’m going to look heavily at what their competition can offer.

  3. Richard, have you read the article on the ATT management in the URL: https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/elliott-trashes-at-t-management-and-its-execution-wireless?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTVRBd05qRTJaV015WldabCIsInQiOiJKS3FJTG9oMzlOdWQxeTlIaXZMZFlubVprYjBWbmZ4VjNJenE1eVphMkZEaXpqUjFUR2dcL243emhpN2RlNWNxMTRaXC9IWnI3UzZvY0pjaDJKMkFqUVE1c2N1eGgwVnFPQWlrTUJnaDFvcUVKVE5hSFZkc0tpMVZNQmNnRzN4T1diIn0%3D&mrkid=88807784
    I travel a lot in California and the ATT coverage leaves a lot to be desired, specifically in rural areas (at least compared to VZ). I have also noticed significant LTE service degradation over the years – not sure why, but after reading the article above I understand better.
    Having said the above, I don’t know why we are not all ecstatic of the fact that public safety have fantastic choices out there and can choose what is best for them and are always in a position with a backup option as no wireless network can be infallible at all times at all locations.

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