Almost 650 public-safety agencies in 48 states and territories have subscribed to FirstNet and deployment of infrastructure to support communications on 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum has begun in earnest, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said this week.

In March 2017, AT&T was named as the nationwide contractor for FirstNet, which is charged with building and maintaining a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). Stephens said that AT&T is making significant progress on the massive LTE project.

“The FirstNet build is kicking into gear, and we launched the nationwide FirstNet dedicated network core last month,” Stephens said Wednesday during AT&T’s quarterly earnings conference call. “We're working hard to build something great for first responders, and early response from our sales activity has been very positive.”

Stephens acknowledged that “some of those folks that we signed up could have been our customers before—they just want to migrate to FirstNet.” AT&T officials “continue to be very excited about” FirstNet and view the massive project as a “real growth opportunity” for the company, he said.

“Quite frankly, I think we've been very pleased about the reception we've been given to at least talk to people that previously weren't our customers,” Stephens said.

Stephens noted that AT&T’s FirstNet role could lead to additional sales opportunities beyond providing a single broadband link to individual first responders.

“On a per-person basis, … you're thinking about two or three—or potentially four—connected points, whether it be a body camera, whether it be a phone, whether it be a tablet for their car, whether it would be some drone or some other device they'd use,” Stephens said.

“But you also look at it from the ability to contact with the smart cities—their employer, so to speak—and whether we can sell other services there. We're also looking for the in-house personnel, the dispatch people that work at the police station, or other personnel [and] whether we can have an opportunity to sell there. And of course, there's always the friends-and-family approach.”

Stephens reiterated AT&T’s buildout plans to utilize the 20 MHz of Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet.

“We've also started the heavy lifting of putting Band 14 on our towers,” he said. “Over the next 5 years, we'll be putting Band 14 on tens of thousands of new and existing sites nationwide. We plan to touch about a third of our cell sites this year alone.

“We will get a significant amount of the Band 14 up this year, and we are expecting to, at a minimum, meet—and hopefully exceed—all of the milestone requirements that FirstNet has given us. So, if I sound pretty positive about it, I am.”

AT&T officials previously have stated that the carrier plans  to deploy infrastructure to support commercial service on 20 MHz of WCS spectrum and another 20 MHz of AWS-3 spectrum at cell sites where Band 14 is being deployed. Traffic from FirstNet subscribers will be given priority and preemption across all AT&T spectrum bands that provide LTE service.