Urgent Matters

Comments in 4.9 GHz proceeding could have 700 MHz impact

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Yesterday, the FCC voted to initiate a proceeding to reconsider the use of the 4.9 GHz band dedicated solely to public safety a decade ago. Part of the proceeding will be to examine whether the band can be used better by allowing non-public-safety entities access to the 50 MHz of contiguous spectrum and under what conditions — a question that also has been raised about public safety's 700 MHz broadband airwaves.

During the last 10 years, the role of the 4.9 GHz band has changed considerably in the public-safety communications arena. Initially expected to be the spectral foundation for public-safety broadband "hot spots," the band often has been leveraged for fixed backhaul usage.

Either way, the spectrum has seen "woeful underutilization," with less than 3% of the governmental entities in the U.S. holding a license in the band, according to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who lamented the fact that this spectrum wasn't auctioned.

This proceeding is designed to address the utilization issue, broaching the touchy-but-relevant issue whether critical-infrastructure entities and even commercial organizations should be allowed access to the spectrum. This could create a larger market that could lead to equipment that offers greater choices at lower prices.

Of course, existing public-safety uses cannot be overlooked, but the FCC clearly believes there are ways to ensure the ability for these systems to work while allowing other uses, as well. The idea of other government users and critical-infrastructure entities to access this spectrum is certainly intriguing, as interoperability with these groups typically are part of the overall communications picture when major incidents arise.

Exactly how it should be done is debatable, but there are many choices, because priority schemes and interference-avoidance technologies continue to become more efficient and sophisticated. Establishing a record for potential spectrum-sharing arrangements is important, not only for its applicability at 4.9 GHz but for the possible use of similar — or complementary — approaches in the 700 MHz band.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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