AT&T: We'll use the FirstNet win to tap IoT, smart cities and other markets

AT&T won valuable spectrum and billions of dollars to build the nation’s first network for first responders when it was awarded the FirstNet contract earlier this year.

But the carrier also hopes to leverage that contract to tap some promising markets that are still in their infancy.

The nation’s second-largest operator will get access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system. AT&T will spend roughly $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to deploy and maintain the network, the Department of Commerce said, integrating its network assets with FirstNet.

It will work with those governmental agencies as it designs, builds and maintains the new network. And that will pry open the door for other opportunities, AT&T CFO John Stephens said during an investor conference in Barcelona, Spain, this week.

“We continue to believe that (the FirstNet buildout) will not only give us an opportunity to serve first responders, but it will also give us an opportunity to continue our lead in connected devices, in the Internet of Things, in support of healthcare devices, in the support of logistics and monitoring, and a whole host of other businesses that we’re already in,” Stephens told investors. “It’s very, very significant.”

One crucial component for that will be AT&T’s strategy of building out the FirstNet network as it continues to lay fiber to strengthen and expand its own network in advance of 5G. But another key factor will be in building relationships with local emergency authorities, then using those ties to secure agreements with other governmental agencies and employees.

“I will tell you that it just so happens from a share of the market today, we don’t have a large share of the first-responder market,” he continued. “So this will be a new area for us to get into. And a new opportunity, which gives us a way to grow our customer base. Quite frankly, when you’re talking to the fire chief or the chief of police or the people who run those medical services, it’s pretty easy then to go to the mayor or the county commissioner and say, ‘How about we do smart cities for you? How about we help you with your traffic problem? How about we help you with your parking problem? How about we help you with conserving water and power?’ Because we can put these monitors and sensors in at the same time we’re building out all this capacity for this FirstNet network.”