I know there are people that wonder why I’m always on the rant about FirstNet (the organization). In my mind its quite simple…if you know someone has good intentions, has the technical skillsets and knowledge to execute, but constantly makes blind mistakes about how to capitalize on a business model that benefits all, you realize that you have to keep a fire under them until they come to realize that they need to stop trying to be the smart guy in the room and instead focus on resources that just make sense. If you realize that you aren’t getting anywhere with the plan you set forth, then it’s time to change. You will garner more respect by changing course and focusing on other ideas that seem to make more sense. Motorola is a perfect example.
The CEO of Motorola (Brown) came out recently and stated that Moto is focusing on its core business of LMR and will remain vigilant of the LTE broadband progress. This is a big change from the past few years. Every time we heard about Moto trying to go after large LTE buildouts, it was reminiscent of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The entire market knows Moto is all about LMR, or at least they were, thus became confused as to why they were trying to build out LTE when they didn’t even have a product in the space. This is a big lesson for FirstNet.
I get hints that FirstNet is starting to understand its position and is making changes to adjust to “better ideas”, but to make this a success there are a few key things that need to happen:
1. FirstNet needs to clean house. Get rid of any carrier ambitions and avoid the carrier lobbyist;
2. FirstNet needs to reclaim its stake as an independent entity. As an independent entity FirstNet can engage its most valuable weapon in its arsenal – creativity – without it you might as well stop today. Federal centralized mindset does not go well with a fine wine of creativity;
3. FirstNet needs to focus on the “bottom-up” approach, meaning they need to work with the States and allow them to build the physical solution themselves. Stop trying to create a complex broadband solution from the top down – it simply won’t work and is probably your best bet to losing your entire budget, your people, and State support;
4. FirstNet needs to refocus on the big picture and oversight of the CORE network. Everyone is always talking about control of the CORE and the cost is prohibitive – that is simply not true. To start, a CORE solution at the State level is required for local control of financial systems, tracking, operations oversight. Why would FirstNet think that it needs to control a CORE in a State? I can understand the need to take control in the event of a large-scale disaster, but why try to control the handset usage and billing operations of a local Fireman in Boise Idaho? It makes no sense. The fact is the term “controlling the CORE” was actually just a soundbite to scare the States into thinking that FirstNet will be in control.
This notion of “controlling the CORE” was actually started at the very beginning of FirstNet and under a whole other organization whose intent was to envision their own non-transparent plan and then start constructing without the State’s input. Essentially, the past leadership thought they knew how to build and run carrier solutions, and rightly so being that they came from that market, but this was not a commercial carrier operation and it was nothing like a carrier operating model. BUT they knew better than anybody else, so why listen to anyone else. You can’t fault the leadership though, because it was individuals that participated in the creation of the MCTR Act of 2012 that set the individuals in motion. The overall message these individuals started to spread was “it looks like a carrier network, uses cellphones like a carrier, and is based on the same concept of cell towers as a commercial carrier, so the carriers are the best people to build our solution!” This was the catalyst to the raging fire that would follow.
Following the disaster of the first few years of FirstNet, which was a total waste of time and taxpayer money, the new leadership started to take control, unfortunately the ship had already struck the iceberg. Even though Sue Swensen took control of the FirstNet Board it was too late to repair the image of past wrong doings…I think she realized that from the start, thus her reluctance to take the reins the second time…but she took control and appointed a new CEO -- Mike Poth. Unfortunately, someone let Mr. Poth put his foot in his mouth right out of the gate.
On his first day in the hot seat, Mr. Poth declares that “the carrier solution is the best solution and thus we should partner with them to build the FirstNet solution”. This statement rekindled the distrust between Public Safety, the States, and FirstNet once again. Fortunately, Mr. Poth got the needed support and they commissioned an “Objectives Based RFP” to the open market, but it was too late, especially given that FirstNet had still not communicated the openness to accept other business model’s counter to their original plans to partner with a national carrier -- at least open enough to build trust. The distrust is still present today. Who wants to engage in a long-term struggle to get buy-in on a different business model that competes with the notion of FirstNet’s original thoughts of partnering with a carrier -- the result was a lack of real responses for the FirstNet RFP. Once again we find ourselves on the catalyst of change.
I believe that had FirstNet not engaged carrier talent and leadership from the start, things would be drastically different today. As I discovered years ago, the carrier based model of subscribership alone, is not sustainable – even the carrier market understood this years ago when “All IP” came out -- thus the downturn of the telecom market place and the over commoditization of access services. Basing a business model on a sales approach of selling to subscribers will not carry the load, especially if your needs are based on Public Safety, complete coverage, and hardened availability. If the cost to maintain a commercial network, and its operations, is too high for even a carrier, why would adding on a whole lot more infrastructure, more than twice the amount of coverage, and fixated with interoperability necessities be any better? The only solution that FirstNet has – and should have listened to from the beginning – is a State based bottom-up approach utilizing a fully financed venture public private partnership model. This was the lesson I learned many years earlier and following years of deep research on this specific topic. After all, I had to do something during my 30+ year career in the telecom space, why not publish a big dissertation that nobody would read?
If there are any words of wisdom from this, it would be that FirstNet needs to take a lesson from Motorola; focus on its core requirements from its core base of customers – the States and Public Safety – and fashion your business model based on their needs, not the needs of supposedly carrier partners who are really only interested in the spectrum so that they can increase their revenue potential. IF you achieve this, then I might ease up on the ranting.
But who am I other than….
Just some guy and a blog….