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Band 14 in every cellular device?

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Including the band in every wireless device--phones, tablet computers, electric meters and more--should dramatically reduce the cost of chipsets, potentially create new funding mechanisms, and provide public officials with a vital alerting resource in emergencies that they don't have today.

By Bill Schrier

Here’s an intriguing question: Should Band 14 be in every mobile device sold in the United States?

Band 14 is the spectrum licensed to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to create a nationwide public-safety wireless broadband network. Band 14 represents 20 MHz of highly desirable spectrum in the 700 MHz band that provides good propagation in urban and rural areas and decent penetration into buildings. 

First responders will have priority on this network, but the federal legislation that created FirstNet and authorized network construction allows for much wider use—indeed, any responder, virtually any government user, and even commercial entities and consumers in certain circumstances. In broadening the potential use of these airwaves, Congress likely intended that, in rural and remote areas—which are not profitable for commercial wireless carriers—FirstNet’s network and spectrum could serve a wide variety of needs, including those of families, small businesses and education, as well as traditional public-safety responders.

So, it could be argued that every wireless device sold anywhere in the United States should have Band 14 capability built-in. And there are some advantages to having Band 14 in every mobile device. 

First, the chipsets for Band 14 should become significantly less expensive, because they’d end up in 300 million or more smartphones, tablet computers, electric meters and other devices.   Next, Band 14 could be used for alerting.   If Band 14 was in every device—along with a bit of software—public officials could send an alert to every device in the area surrounding, say, a Boston Marathon bombing incident, or every device in the path of a Moore, Okla.- style F5 tornado.   Perhaps Band 14 also could be used for 911 calls from consumer phones, as well as the transmission of text and images from those phones in places where next-generation 911 is available.

Furthermore, many of us working on the FirstNet initiative are concerned about the sustainability and viability of the network.  Commercial networks have 20, 40 or 100 million users over which they can spread the cost of upgrades and maintenance.  In contrast, FirstNet is likely to have only a few million—perhaps 10 to 14 million at most.  But the FirstNet network must cover virtually the entire country—not just populated areas.   Moreover, it must be hardened to withstand a disaster, and the monthly cost to responders must be close to the monthly charges of the commercial networks.

Is that financially feasible?

Well, if Band 14 is in every device, the FCC might mandate an additional charge to consumers and business users for that capability.  Even 50 cents per month across 300 million commercial devices will generate $150 million each month, almost $2 billion each year, to help support and sustain the FirstNet network.   Commercial carriers and others may not like the additional charge, but it would be a small price to pay for alerting citizens during disasters and allowing a more reliable connection to 911.

There are disadvantages to such a plan, of course.   Having Band 14 in every device—especially with transmit enabled—might enable hackers to interfere with public safety’s use of the FirstNet network, or compromise the network itself.   And at times when the network is overloaded with public-safety use, it would not be available for citizen 911 calls or alerting.

Nevertheless, as the design and development of the FirstNet network proceeds, we should consider having it directly benefit every citizen, every consumer and every business in the nation, as well as first responders.

Bill Schrier is senior policy advisor in the state of Washington’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, and chairs the state’s interoperability executive committee. Previously, he was CIO for the city of Seattle.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 13, 2013

Although I like the concept of $0.50 per month per commercial subscriber device to help fund FirstNet, I don't think allowing commercial device 9-1-1 service is in the best interest of the network. When the next major event happens, what happens to the FirstNet network when potentially hundreds of citizens in a small area grab their phones and start dialing 9-1-1, in effect creating an unintentional denial of service attack on the network? This would occur before the first responders can even get on the network to make it unavailable to the citizens. This is one of the primary reasons to have the FirstNet network rather than use commercial networks. A network not subject to overloading by uncontrollable commercial use.

on Jun 19, 2013

This is a good comment. To implement my suggestion would require use of LTE's priority setting and traffic management algorithms.

on Jun 14, 2013

You want the FCC to tax every user for a product they don't know they have, a product they cannot use, and really don't need. Not going to happen. Cell companies already have the means for sending alerts and with the rollout of 4G, that service will only improve..How about a small increase in universal access fees for 9-1-1 and require that monies collected be actually used for 9-1-1 and LTE?

on Jun 19, 2013

That's a good alternative suggestion, Jayce. The major advantages to having Band 14 in devices - besides the potential income for FirstNet - is that Band 14 should have a wider footprint than the commercial networks and FirstNet should be hardened to public safety grade, so it stays up when the commercial networks are down.

Rex Buddenberg (not verified)
on Aug 25, 2017

Bill,

In addition to providing the band 14 capability, each cellphone should also have an 'emergency services public key' embedded in it. So when the alert comes, its digital signature can be verified. Authenticity is as critical as the RF capability.

In rural areas, building a comms system is expensive. Building two comms systems is twice as expensive and is usually paid for by shortchanging availability (altroutes and backup power). Your proposal helps. Take it a step farther -- put commercial cell bands in the EMS-procured Band 14 equipment ... for the same reason.

b

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

The architecture that makes the most sense to me is to run a second "control channel" somewhere in this spectrum (to facilitate priority access during busy times) and then to build out the rest of the spectrum in cooperation with existing carriers. If public safety users are placed at the top of the priority algorhythm I cannot see a need (or economic justification) to keep others from using the spectrum when it is not needed by public safety.

Dr Myers (not verified)
on Jun 20, 2013

Isn't the decision to install band 14 type chipsets at the whim of the OEMs and based on the financial viability of its usage? I would envision that this is already inherent in the ecosystem of user demand on chipset manufacturing. If the need is there I'm sure the OEMs will produce chips....if it brings in revenue they will do it.

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