2017-10-04 | Ken Rehbehn

Verizon to FirstNet: Secure Interoperability is Technically Feasible

In his Blog, principal analyst Ken Rehbehn talks about the issue of interoperability between two competing secure and interconnected networks serving Public Safety communications operations in the USA.

Michael Maiorana, Senior Vice President for Public Sector at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, recently published a LinkedIn Post expanding on how Verizon plans to co-exist in a FirstNet world. After deciding to not bid for an opportunity to serve as the FirstNet partner, Verizon launched a marketing campaign in August that promised a secure national wireless network offering comparable Quality of Service (QoS) and priority to the FirstNet offer coming to market from AT&T.

In his latest post, Mr. Maiorana tackles the issue of interoperability between the two competing networks. He notes that the Verizon core network will be dedicated to the companies public safety customers. Furthermore, the Verizon public safety core network will not be linked to the AT&T FirstNet core network. The link, he argues, will simply be a peering arrangement between Verizon's public safety core network and FirstNet's data centers.

The Verizon argument assumes its peering point would be comparable to a peering point used to interconnect FirstNet's data centers to the AT&T FirstNet core network. Unfortunately, the FirstNet website suggests that a separate FirstNet data center network is not in the cards. The site explicitly notes that "Applications and services and operational and business support systems also reside in the core network," suggesting that FirstNet data assets are potentially co-mingled in AT&T's cloud ensemble enabled by AT&T's Network 3.0 Indigo. There are no statements from FirstNet that point to an independent set of FirstNet data centers.

Mr. Maiorana is correct when he asserts that operating two secure and interconnected networks is feasible. Interconnecting two secure networks is not a technical issue, but a question of will. FirstNet and its partner AT&T must see Verizon as a potent competitor that threatens FirstNet subscriber uptake and, with that, the AT&T FirstNet business model. Making it easier for Verizon to hold on to existing customers -- and even gain new customers -- is not in AT&T's interest.

As the public safety wireless market leader, Verizon enjoys the inertia that comes with in-place government communications contracts. AT&T FirstNet must work hard to wrest subscribers from Verizon accounts, with little more than pricing as an inducement for now. Verizon, however, will lose its advantage when -- and if -- one of the following occurs:

  • Commercially produced FirstNet applications become compelling. All innovative applications coming on the market today are hosted on public cloud services. The ease of access to these applications means agencies gain no advantage using AT&T over Verizon when it comes to reaching today's cloud-based applications. If, however, FirstNet can convince the application suppliers to host on a closed FirstNet application environment, agencies will have no choice but to move wireless subscribers from Verizon to AT&T FirstNet.
  • Federal FirstNet cloud applications arrive and deliver operational utility for local agencies. If the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Department of Justice (DOJ) develop vital applications for disaster relief, criminal record checks, etc. on the FirstNet application environment, local agencies may find strong value in shifting wireless subscribers from Verizon to AT&T FirstNet. DHS and DOJ can accelerate the process by making grant programs benefiting local agencies contingent on the agencies joining AT&T FirstNet.
  • Grant funding stimulates Band 14 device market. FirstNet controls the use of Band 14. Beyond any opt-out states that pass the hurdles of becoming operational with a Verizon-supplied RAN, Verizon cannot host Band 14 devices. Should agencies want new and compelling Band 14-only (OK, Band 14 and AT&T bands) devices, they will need to switch to AT&T FirstNet.


In the meantime, however, existing Verizon public safety customers have little incentive to move to AT&T FirstNet. Even with no interoperability to the AT&T FirstNet core, Verizon can match wireless access capabilities. It is with application access where AT&T can win the battle.