The light at the end of the tunnel is now clear and bright for public-safety broadband communications. The FCC has released its Report and Order creating a public-private partnership between the 700 MHz D Block auction winner and the still-to-be-named Public-Safety Broadband Licensee (PSBL), the entity that will manage public safety's 700 MHz interests. The groundbreaking order gives broad flexibility to the PSBL to provide revolutionary new mobile capabilities to the nation's first responders.

This landmark FCC rule-making has presented a significant opportunity to public safety to define its operational requirements and objectives for the broadband network and to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with the D Block licensee. This opportunity is challenging for a variety of reasons, however, including the obvious fact that it has never been accomplished before. Additionally, the agreement between the entities, which historically have had very different motivations and requirements, is a delicate business deal where there must be a win-win. Public safety's leverage in this arrangement is significant, and it is essential to use it wisely to capitalize on this extraordinary opportunity.

Whether you're a police officer, firefighter, radio manager, IT manager, or government official, you need to decide what's critical to you from this new service. That includes all aspects of the solution: what kind of devices, what applications, how much capacity, what level of reliability, and at what price. Many public-safety agencies can't afford commercial services for all their personnel today, and it's unlikely they will in the future without dramatically reduced service costs. Service fees will be a critical component of broad adoption, but they must be balanced against the cost of operating a viable network.

A lot is at stake: Lack of an agreement between the PSBL and D Block winner could significantly delay network deployment. An inadequate service offering at the wrong price point would further delay adoption. Establishing public safety's requirements is critical. Public safety should articulate those requirements in advance of the auctions so that the bidders fully understand what will be expected of them to avoid these risks. All public-safety communities are encouraged to get involved and carefully define their needs to begin crafting a vision for mutual success.

Even more opportunities exist for the 700 MHz broadband network to provide a voice and video interoperability platform. However, it's important to recognize that reliable software, rugged devices and reliable connectivity in any circumstance must be in place before this network can replicate a land mobile radio. Until that can happen, this network must integrate with LMR networks across the country. But the potential of such a platform becomes significant when integrated with video, allowing public safety to communicate in whatever form is most efficient. No one could have envisioned how e-mail would change our lives 15 years ago. I anticipate mobile video, integrated with voice, will have the same dramatic effect on public-safety operations.

Now is the time to get involved and extract every possible benefit from this opportunity. It will require the input from public-safety entities across the country and close collaboration between governments and the PSBL. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for public safety. A concerted and cohesive effort is required to capitalize on it. This is your network, your diamond in the rough. Make it shine.


Joe Ross is a partner with Televate, LLC, a McLean, Va. — based consultancy that specializes in comprehensive system engineering and program management for 800 MHz rebanding, interoperable LMR systems and high-speed wireless data networks. He can be reached at jross@televate.com.