One of the sessions I enjoyed during the BICSI Winter Conference held in early February was titled "New funding trends for bringing mobile broadband inside." The panel discussion featured vendors that serve the on-premises distributed antenna system (DAS) marketplace, and DAS dominated the conversation.
When the session ended, discussions of funding kept many audience members hanging around for a while. The conference venue's staff was removing the chairs from the ballroom and carrying away the podium while DAS stakeholders remained in lively conversation about who is likely to pay for what, under which circumstances. If I heard one conversation correctly, a few years ago one wireless carrier funded the DAS installation inside the stadium of a college football perennial powerhouse. Today a different carrier expects the university to fund what will be a very similar project. Scenarios like this one appear to be playing out all over the place.
Shortly before the BICSI Conference took place, the United States' First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) issued its request for proposal for the deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network. Established by Congress via the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act in 2012, FirstNet was created "to take all actions necessary to ensure the building, deployment and operation of the nationwide public safety broadband network for local, state, regional, tribal and federal first responders and other public safety personnel," the authority says.
The RFP issued on January 13 seeks to create a public-private partnership to create the network, and the U.S.'s four largest wireless carriers are the most likely to bid. The financial terms of the project are complicated. As Damon Verial commented on Seeking Alpha, "The monetary exchange is a $6.5 billion deal from the government to the winning bidder, then $5.6 billion back to the government afterward. ... There must be other revenue streams at play here, but the RFP does not mention them ... The wireless companies are bidding for an uncertain deal." Verial's column is aimed at investors and sizes up whether it will be a good or bad idea to invest in whichever carrier wins the bid. To oversimplify his message: It's complicated.
In a way the FirstNet initiative faces the same question as many DAS projects: Who is likely to pay whom, for what, under what circumstances?