Rivada fights on, aims to provide states with alternative to AT&T’s FirstNet

Rivada Networks might have lost the FirstNet contract to AT&T, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still in the game.

Led by co-CEOs Declan Ganley and former Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer, Rivada Networks continues to respond to states that issue RFPs seeking input from vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety LTE radio access network (RAN) that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s network. While FirstNet as an organization wants to see all the states opt in to the network it’s creating with AT&T, the law said states must be given the option to opt out.

According to Ganley, that’s an important piece of the entire FirstNet endeavor. Spectrum was specifically allocated to FirstNet in part because public safety wanted to move away from the “stove piping” of the past where one vendor dominated. Moving to the inherently open LTE standard provided a way to do that.

“What everybody needs to be very guarded about here is what looks like an attempt, on the part of AT&T, to … create a new stove pipe,” he told FierceWirelessTech. “So to move public safety from a Motorola stove pipe and into an AT&T stove pipe” isn’t necessarily reflective of what Congress wanted to do, and that’s why it created the right for states to be able to “opt out” and have their own network built, he said.

AT&T confident in getting states’ support

Of course, AT&T has cited many reasons as to why it’s not a good idea to opt out, including arguments tied to interoperability and risks associated with states going it on their own, as outlined in this IWCE's Urgent Communications article

At a Cowen & Company conference last week, AT&T Chief Strategy Officer and Group President of Technology & Operations John Donovan expressed confidence that states will opt in. AT&T and FirstNet are expected to present their draft public safety network plans to states around June 19.

“I think once the states have an opportunity to evaluate in totality what it means to be in and what would be necessary to be out, I think it's a very compelling proposition for the states to join and we expected that most if not all will and we believe that we're going to have a very compelling case for,” Donovan said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

The statute that created FirstNet also required any state that chooses to opt out to submit an alternative plan for its proposed state RAN to the FCC. Last week, the FCC released a tentative agenda for its next open meeting on June 22, where it will consider a Report and Order that establishes the procedures and standards the commission will use to review alternative plans submitted by states.

The act provides every governor 90 days from the time FirstNet provides the state with its final state plan to decide whether to opt out of the National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). The act also stated that an opt-out state has 180 days after it provides its opt-out notice to “develop and complete requests for proposals for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the radio access network within the State.”

So far, several states have issued RFPs, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, to develop alternative plans. That doesn’t mean they will opt out, but it gives them something to compare with AT&T’s plan. New Hampshire has not decided whether it will opt out, but if it does, it has approved its vendor of choice: Rivada Networks.

RELATED: Nokia, Ericsson, Intel among Rivada Networks partners on FirstNet bid

Last year, Rivada Networks collaborated with Ericsson, Nokia, Intel Security, Harris Corporation, Fujitsu Network Communications and Black & Veatch to form Rivada Mercury, which was created for the express purpose of bidding on the FirstNet contract.

Rivada working with ‘industry leader partners'

Since the FirstNet contract was awarded to AT&T in March, Rivada Networks continues to work with leading industry players, but Ganley declined to name anyone specifically, citing competitive reasons. “We have an excellent set of industry leader partners,” he said.

Notably, the company has not lost senior executives since losing the award to AT&T, and its turnover has been low since its founding, according to Ganley. In fact, it’s been adding to the team over the last several months. “We’re very proud of the work that we’ve done and of our dedication to public safety. We’ve got a team that knows public safety communication like nobody else,” he said.

Rivada’s head of business development is Chris Moore, retired chief of police for the San Jose Police Department. Several other members of its management team used to work at Sprint, including in Sprint's wholesale division. Board members include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, as well as former Homeland Security and other government officials.

While Rivada continues to advocate for public safety, it faces an uphill battle. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO) supported the selection of AT&T and has said there’s no reason for any state to opt out, which it said entails an arduous process and shifts the important responsibility to implement a radio access network from FirstNet to the state. A state that seeks to construct its own RAN introduces many serious risks to the communications capabilities of first responders within its own borders as well as those across the nation, APCO said.

According to documents by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which upheld the Department of Interior’s decision to award the FirstNet contract to AT&T after Rivada complained it was wrongly excluded from the bid, AT&T was awarded the contract because FirstNet determined that Rivada Mercury’s proposal and business model were simply too risky.

RELATED: FirstNet questioned Rivada's finances, business model, court docs show

Rivada's core technology, Dynamic Spectrum Arbitrage Tiered Priority Access (DSATPA), allows public safety to have priority access with instant (millisecond) pre-emption in the event of an emergency situation, guaranteeing first responders access to the bandwidth when they need it most.

Ganley: ‘The future is wholesale’

“We also have built a layer of expertise in technology and wholesale that is unmatched,” Ganley said. “The future of wireless is wholesale,” because one of the keys to unlocking access to bandwidth in the future will be based on a dynamic discovery basis and that’s what Rivada does. “Technology is no longer the barrier. Governments and regulators around the world are recognizing this.”

In granting AT&T the FirstNet contract, the U.S. government is giving the carrier 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.

AT&T’s Donovan said during the Cowen conference that the network buildout for FirstNet could start later this year as opposed to 2018. “For the engineer in me, the network side of things, it really is a great opportunity for us to take our wireless network to the next level,” he said.

Clearly, Ganley remains disappointed that Rivada was not deemed the winning bidder for FirstNet. Rivada Mercury has said its offer amounted to $33.7 billion more than what AT&T offered.

But the hardest part filing their bid for the FirstNet contract was providing 30-meter resolution radio propagation planning for all of the U.S. and territories, and “we did that," he said.

"We understood exactly down to the 30 square meters what was involved in the network design and radio propagation design for this first responder network and we did that because that was the requirement of the RFP. They obviously had that requirement for good reason," he explained.