A demonstration public-safety broadband communications network is under development by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The network will let manufacturers, carriers and public safety agencies evaluate advanced broadband communications equipment and software tailored to first responders' needs, said Dereck Orr, the program manager for NIST's public-safety communications research program.

Orr said public safety agencies soon will use the 700 MHz broadband spectrum (cleared by the switch to digital TV) to develop a unified broadband system that lets agencies communicate with nationwide roaming and interoperability. Yet, there currently are no government or independent laboratory facilities testing the yet-to-be-deployed network and its applications.

As a result, NIST will establish two test sites to determine the efficacy of the network and related hardware and software components. Orr said initially there will be two network sites. The first site will be built in a controlled environment at a NIST laboratory. The other will be established on Table Mountain north of Boulder, Colo. Table Mountain is part of the Department of Commerce's laboratories and is one of the nation's two radio-free quiet zones. He said the zone will support an over-the-air system using experimental licenses in the D block in order to test public safety-specific applications, including location tracking and live streaming video.

"We also will be looking at technologies like LTE that now have the ability to implement preemption or the ability to implement prioritization — that's not been seen in any network before, and yet it's something very important to public safety, especially in a shared network," Orr said.

The network will later be used as a public-safety education center, where first responders can run emergency scenarios. It also can be used by manufacturers.

"As it looks like [public safety] may finally have access to a nationwide broadband network, we need to create a place where public safety and manufacturers of the equipment can deploy systems and work through any issues," Orr said.

The network is currently in the preliminary planning stages and is expected to go live in mid-2010, Orr said.

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