Verizon Communications Inc. said it is building dedicated lanes at the core of its U.S. wireless network for firefighters and other first responders, a bid to compete with AT&T Inc.'s plans for its own public-safety network.
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In March, AT&T won a $6.5 billion federal contract to build FirstNet, which is intended to provide nationwide wireless data coverage and priority access for first responders during emergencies.
Verizon, the nation's largest carrier by subscribers, says it controls about two-thirds of the market for police, fire and other first responders, and in its announcement signaled that it plans to hold on to them.
"We're serious about remaining extremely relevant in this space," Michael Maiorana, a Verizon senior vice president who oversees the effort, said Tuesday. The company declined to say how much it would spend to make the upgrades.
Verizon said its public-safety lanes will operate separately from those for commercial customers and that it would prioritize public-safety traffic over commercial traffic during times of network congestion. The priority-access feature, which is already available to public-safety services, will be free of charge, the carrier said. A similar feature called "preemption" will be available later this year.
The idea for the network originated from the 9/11 Commission Report, as many first responders that day lost access to communication devices. Although AT&T received a swath of valuable airwaves in addition to the government funds to develop FirstNet, individual U.S. states are still debating whether to join the project or build their own networks.
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"FirstNet has consulted closely with public safety as a partner to develop this network. Thanks to their input, we are now delivering first responders a compelling network solution they've never had before," a FirstNet spokesman said in an email Tuesday. The network's services "are unmatched and unique to public safety."
An AT&T spokesman said the company is building a "superior network and ecosystem with specialized features" that would be unlike anything the market has seen before.
At least a dozen states and territories have already agreed to let AT&T build the network in their state, though the carrier must still entice public-safety agencies to sign up for it. While some of AT&T's network is already active, the carrier expects the bulk of it to come online next year.
Verizon said its offer doesn't require states to opt out of FirstNet, and the company doesn't expect to receive federal funds. It said the dedicated lanes, known as a private network core, will be ready in 2018.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 15, 2017 21:11 ET (01:11 GMT)