Broadband fever has spread though the FCC like a virus. The way the commission tells it, the future of wireless is broadband and only broadband. The way I see it, the commission’s vision is fatally flawed.

The FCC appears to be basing its vision primarily on the fact that thousands of local, state and federal fire, police and rescue authorities nationwide created their own independent radio systems that don't use common frequencies. This is true enough. And the FCC should know, because it created the situation.

Whenever the commission released new spectrum, the public-safety community did not get enough in any one band. This went on for decades. As more channels were needed, they were assigned by the FCC in small chunks of spectrum instead of in large contiguous blocks. Hindsight tells us that was a huge mistake. Now, the current commission believes that the solution to this problem is to move all first responders to broadband. That will just make things worse.

The theory is that the proposed nationwide interoperable wireless network would first be used by public safety for data, but eventually would replace existing LMR voice channels and provide broadband voice services. The commission seems to believe that current public-safety voice services can be replicated with voice technologies that will become available on broadband networks in a few years. It is obvious that those who are advocating this migration do not understand that voice requirements for public safety are very different than those provided by cell-phone networks.

For starters, first responders need one-to-many voice communications services which are not, today, supported by any of the cellular technologies. Next, and perhaps just as important, many conversations between first responders at an incident are not routed though a radio tower, but occur directly between the units. This would be like a cell-phone user being able to talk directly to another cell-phone user without having to rely on the cellular network. Again, none of today’s cellular technologies support this type of communication — the phone must be within the coverage area of a cell tower and must have access to the extensive network capabilities in order for the call to be completed. With a cell phone, if you are not in range of a cell site, what you have in your hand is just a paper weight. Last, but not least, is the issue of dropped calls. When lives are on the line, first responders cannot afford dropped calls.

Given all of this, it is disheartening to realize that those who are making recommendations to Congress and the executive branch regarding the future of first-responder communications in our country do not seem to have a true understanding of the many differences between placing a cell phone call to an individual and dispatching a call to multiple police or fire units, all at the same time.

Suppose a SWAT team leader needs to contact his entire unit that has taken up positions around an in-building hostage situation. Is he going to have to call every member of his team one at a time, or he is going to push one button and be able to talk to all of them at the same time? Or how about the Secret Service detail that is providing security for the president as he walks though an underground parking garage heading to an event. Do they all need to be able to communicate with each other all of the time, or can they be out of touch during the walk through the garage, where there is no cell-phone coverage?

Today, they use two-way radios that have both capabilities. They can make use of tower systems when they are in range but they also can talk amongst themselves when there is no tower available. Ask the LTE experts when they will be able to offer this type of network communication. I know the answer — do you?

Every time a first responder pushes the button on his radio, he knows one thing — someone will hear him. Can you say that about your cell phone? I honestly believe that those who wrote the broadband report delivered to Congress in mid-March believe broadband is the answer to every communications situation. Broadband will be able to handle all of the data traffic and all of the voice traffic, they say. What they are missing, however, is that when a first responder calls for assistance, he has seconds, only seconds, to get the call through. He doesn’t have time to try it again if the system drops the call. By then, it will be too late — and the consequences might be dire.

Past commissions have short-changed the public-safety community over and over again. Are we going to permit this FCC to do it this time too? I, for one, hope not.

Andrew M. Seybold heads Andrew Seybold Inc., which provides consulting, educational and publishing services. For more information, visit

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