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AT&T is chomping at the bit to get going on its FirstNet buildout.

CEO Randall Stephenson said this week at an investor conference AT&T is aiming to kick off construction of its nationwide network for first responders by the end of this year.

According to Stephenson, AT&T is already submitting bids to all the states for their opt-in or opt-out consent. By the close of 2017, he said, work should already have started in a number of the states that were the first to agree to participation in the network’s deployment.

“We want to go as fast as we possibly can go,” Stephenson said. “To the extent we get the states opting in, this should not be a five-year build. We ought to be able to do this much quicker than that and we're motivated to do it quicker than that.”

Stephenson indicated a number of state governors are also “anxious” to participate and “enthusiastic” about the build, particularly in regions that are prone to natural disasters. The carrier anticipates that a number of those states will opt in “fairly quickly” and allow work to get started, he said.

There are several reasons for the rush, both on AT&T’s end and on the states’ part. From the latter, Stephenson said there’s a keen interest to secure some of the job creation the build will bring. The network deployment will require AT&T to add roughly 10,000 new employees both internally and through contractors and cell site climbers, Stephenson revealed, and states who opt in earlier will capture those jobs first.

But AT&T also has massive incentives to get the ball rolling.

Stephenson noted that in addition to bringing 20 MHz of fallow spectrum to the carrier, the FirstNet build also gives AT&T the opportunity to light up its other 40 MHz of unused airwaves in a single tower climb. The carrier also expects to reap penetration benefits from the build, he said.

“There are penetration requirements inherent in the bid that we won,” he explained. “We're going to go into a market and actually gain share we think in a fairly quick fashion in an area where we're underpenetrated. So, we're enthusiastic about that.”

And finally, Stephenson said AT&T’s FirstNet work and partnerships with first responders will lay the foundation for more Smart Cities initiatives down the line.

“There are many layers to this thing that got us motivated and wanting to pursue this, and the more we got into it, the more enthusiastic we got,” he concluded. “The government did a very good job of adjusting the bid so that really drove the right behaviors by all the bidders and it created a really high value proposition for the governments as well as for the companies that came in to bid on it.”

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