AT&T CFO John Stephens revealed the operator plans to spend all $6.5 billion it will receive from the US government to fund its FirstNet build, with the bulk of the outlay coming early in the five-year construction period.

During an investor conference, Stephens said AT&T is expecting to receive initial FirstNet work orders in January and indicated the operator will “get going as fast as we can” in terms of constructing the network. AT&T will likely spend more than one fifth of the funding in the first year to jump-start construction “because the faster we get this put in service, the better we can serve our existing customers and the better we can grow our customer base,” he said.

AT&T expects FirstNet to add around 10 million customers – comprising police, fire and EMT users along with other government workers and family members – to its base, Stephens added.

Stephens reported engineering work and cell sites are already prepped for the FirstNet project, but noted AT&T is also aiming to deploy its AWS-3 and WCS spectrum at the same time. The additional work means AT&T’s total spending over the five years will be more than the $6.5 billion for FirstNet alone, but Stephens said the extra funds will be within the operator’s capital expenditure guidance.

To date, Stephens said 35 states and territories have opted into to AT&T’s FirstNet build plans out of a total of 56 eligible.