As the process for states to opt in or out of AT&T’s FirstNet build gets underway, Rivada Networks is arguing that a little vendor competition will push swifter evolution of the network to accommodate next generation public safety use cases.

In a filing with the FCC this week, Rivada noted the Public Safety Spectrum Act was carefully crafted to promote both interoperability and technological evolution through the use of a single nationwide architecture based on commercial standards. However, Rivada pointed out the Act doesn’t mandate that FirstNet – and, by extension, its contract partner AT&T – has to be the one controlling all the traffic flowing over that network. And a little competition could actually give FirstNet a technological boost, Rivada argued.

“When some states operate and control their own state networks, and necessarily interoperate with FirstNet, those states may adopt and incorporate new technologies and capabilities ahead of FirstNet, providing a means to judge FirstNet’s effectiveness in ensuring that the nationwide network ‘evolves with technological advancements,’ as Congress directed,” Rivada wrote. “Opt-out alternative providers can continue to apply this competitive pressure on AT&T to evolve with 5G and IoT use cases over the course of FirstNet’s ten-year license.”

An outside option could also provide additional options for “better” coverage in rural areas, the company added.

“State network operation provides a market check to ensure that the funding and deployment of the nationwide public safety broadband network, particularly in higher cost rural areas, is not gated by the business choices of a single vendor: FirstNet’s commercial partner, AT&T,” Rivada continued. “Rural coverage is a crucial function of the nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network, and if states and their partners can do a better job of deploying rural coverage than AT&T, the Act clearly allows them to do so.”

Rivada’s argument comes in response to comments from FirstNet and AT&T in which they appeared to insist that a state operating its own RAN must use the FirstNet core. Rivada said that assertion – based on its reading of the Act – was incorrect. According to Rivada, Nothing in the Act compels states to use only FirstNet core services, meaning they are free to provision their own as long as they’re interoperable with the FirstNet system. And the latter “is not as difficult as AT&T or FirstNet would have the Commission, Congress, and the states believe.”

It’s worth noting that Rivada isn’t exactly a disinterested party. The company joined forces with Ericsson, Nokia, and Intel to submit a bid for the FirstNet contract under the moniker Rivada Mercury. However, Rivada was eliminated from the RFP process and lost a lawsuit that claimed FirstNet wrongly excluded its bid from the “competitive range.”