New Hampshire’s RFP for a public-safety LTE system: An act of rebellion or self defense?

This month, the FirstNet board voted unanimously to release its final request for proposal (RFP) early in January (FirstNet s still has not released the exact date). Some may have thought this meant that FirstNet, public safety, government and industry could relax, enjoy the holidays—maybe take a long winter’s nap—before the RFP is released to begin what likely will be a very busy and hectic year in 2016.

Relax? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since then, NTIA’s proposed rulemaking to review FirstNet fees caused many in the industry to raise their eyebrows. But the real uproar came when news hit the street that the state of New Hampshire had released an RFP to solicit bids for its own public-safety LTE network.

New Hampshire’s RFP schedule calls for a winning bidder to be selected by March 7, with the deployment to begin on April 30 and the statewide network to be completed in Sept. 30, 2017. In contrast, FirstNet likely will not start construction on its network until 2018.

Reactions were loud and emphatic. Most FirstNet advocates were livid, wondering how New Hampshire officials could justify jumping the gun by making an opt-out decision without giving FirstNet time to present its plan for the state. Meanwhile, some FirstNet critics and state advocates expressed the viewpoint that it was about time that someone challenged FirstNet and the federal government, and they hailed New Hampshire officials as revolutionaries.

Now, there are plenty of arguments being made by those who want to dismiss New Hampshire officials as crazy for releasing this RFP, but most are matters of interpretation and protocol that legitimately can be debated.

But there is one absolute in wireless communications: If you don’t have rights to spectrum, you can’t build a system on those airwaves. That is the case in New Hampshire. The state’s RFP calls for the public-safety LTE network to be built on 700 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to FirstNet, and FirstNet has no inclination or legal obligation to even talk to New Hampshire about spectrum rights for at least two years—if ever—under current law and stated FirstNet rules.

Given this, it’s reasonable to wonder whether any vendor would bid on the New Hampshire RFP. After all, why expend the time and resources to prepare a bid—no trivial matter—for a project that likely will not be built? And how can a vendor estimate the cost to comply with FirstNet interoperability and cybersecurity standards that don’t even exist yet?

Meanwhile, if New Hampshire ever gets its needed spectrum rights, it would be logical for the state to bid the project again—something that the RFP clearly states is its right—when it would probably get more interest and theoretically better bids.

Despite these potentially discouraging issues, at least one vendor—Rivada Networks—has indicated that it will respond to the New Hampshire RFP.