A nationwide 700 MHz LTE network for public safety is a concept that has captured the imagination of the first-responder community for several years, and the attention of lawmakers and policymakers in Washington for the past year, particularly as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches.

The notion of such a network has gathered considerable momentum on Capitol Hill, and most Beltway sources believe a bill that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and provide $12 billion in funding to deploy the network will be approved by the Senate this summer. While the main purpose of the proposed network is to provide broadband-communications support to public safety, many believe its scope should extend beyond the realm of the traditional first-responder triumvirate of police, fire and EMS personnel.

There are myriad potential partners, from non-public-safety government organizations to federal-government entities to critical-infrastructure enterprises, such as utilities and transportation organizations. Some believe partnerships with consumer-oriented commercial carriers also would make sense, particularly in underserved rural areas.

And there are multiple reasons for considering such arrangements, with proponents noting that properly structured partnerships can offer public safety and the partnering entities significant technical, economic and political advantages. In short, by pooling resources effectively, partnerships could result in the construction and maintenance of an LTE network that is more robust and reliable than the partners could build separately — and for less money.

In addition, such partnerships could enhance interoperability between public-safety agencies and some of the most important entities they work with during emergencies.

"Not only would [partners] use this for daily usage on unused bandwidth at the lowest priority, but there's also those moments — for instance, when a bridge collapses in Minnesota — when you want to get a hold of the highway authority, you want them to reroute traffic, and you want to have direct communications, so police can be pulled into a mutual-aid response," said Rick Keith, director of product management for Motorola Solutions.