A pilot designed to test ability to integrate new broadband technologies with existing public-safety two-way radio systems could provide information that could be helpful in the buildout of a proposed nationwide broadband wireless network in the 700 MHz band, a government official told MRT.

Launched recently in the District of Columbia, the Radio Over Wireless Broadband (ROW-B) pilot project is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC), the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) and Clarity Communications Systems. Clarity’s solution leveraging the P25 ISSI standard will be used to integrate broadband push-to-talk and geographic information system (GIS) applications with traditional two-way communications.

Networks to be used in the pilot will be the district’s Motorola LMR network and the citywide Wireless Advanced Responder Network (WARN), which uses CDMA EV-DO technology to provide wireless broadband services, OIC Director David Boyd said.

“Part of what we’re looking at is: Can we begin to tie all these things together in a way that lets us keep all of the advantages of land mobile radio and lets us now add some of the critical advantages that you get from a broadband application?” Boyd said during an interview with MRT. “Part of that becomes, how can we integrate these things?”

Such integration is critical to public-safety interoperability, because technical, political, operational and financial realities make it highly unlikely that all first responders would use the same network—or technology—on a daily basis, Boyd said.

“Our philosophy is a system-of-systems approach, because I believe it’s impossible to get everyone on a single system, at least not for a very, very long time. That means we have to figure out how to bring in lots of legacy systems, how to build systems that are expansible, including new things we have never thought about.”

The timing of the pilot is particularly relevant, because a recent FCC order calls for the winner of the commercial D Block spectrum in the upcoming 700 MHz auction to build a public-safety-grade wireless broadband network that also uses 10 MHz of public-safety spectrum. While information from the ROW-B pilot may not impact negotiations in the public-private network agreement, the report—possibly available as early as the middle of 2008—could help with the buildout of the network, Boyd said.

“In part, what they’re going to have to do is develop the standards that are going to allow the integration of exactly the same kind of things we’re beginning to look at in ROW-B,” he said. “So we’re hoping that what we learn out of ROW-B about all these pieces will also provide valuable information for folks in the public-private partnership that have to build the standards and have to identify how that system is going to work.”

While the ROW-B pilot will begin in the D.C. area using an EV-DO network, Boyd said he hopes the project will expand to encompass other geographical circumstances and technologies that can be used even by local public-safety agencies.

“What we would hope is that we can provide the kind of information so they can say, ‘Given our set of circumstances and given what we know out of these reports, this is the solution we should take,’” Boyd said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of information that helps people make really smart decision about how they’re going to design their future systems. Also, in the course of doing this, I think the District will end up building a more robust, even-more-capable system.”