During the month of November, the public-safety side of the public/private partnership to build a nationwide broadband wireless network on 700 MHz spectrum was solidified, with the auction to determine the potential commercial partner set to begin in less than two months.

Potential bidders for the 10 MHz of spectrum in the D Block spent the latter half of November reviewing a bidder information document prepared by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) — named the official licensee for public safety's 10 MHz of 700 MHz broadband spectrum on Nov. 19 — that outlines public safety's expectations for the shared wireless broadband network (SWBN).

In addition to reiterating FCC rules for the buildout — the network must be able to serve 99.3% of the U.S. population by 2019 — the PSST bidder information details the performance expectations for the network, including minimum data throughputs at the edge of cells and the need to be 99.9% reliable.

But the PSST opted not to label most items as requirements, instead calling them preferences that need to be solidified during the six months of negotiations between the D Block winner and the PSST to forge a network sharing agreement.

“At some level, everything is subject to negotiation,” Morgan O'Brien, CEO of Cyren Call Communications, the PSST's adviser.

Public-safety users would pay subscription fees to the PSST, which will lease a prearranged amount of wholesale capacity from the commercial operator(s) at a rate below commercial costs. If that capacity level is exceeded, the PSST would pay the same rate as commercial customers, which helps ensure the economic viability of the model, according to sources.

Public safety will receive the highest-priority access to the network, including preemption over commercial users within its 10 MHz of spectrum in the case that the network is used to its fullest capacity. However, the PSST document notes that 911 callers should not be subject to preemption.

A week after the release of the bidder information document, O'Brien said there had been “nothing negative” in the feedback to it from the FCC, potential bidders or public safety. This response not only reinforced O'Brien's belief that some previously interested operators are willing to bid on the D Block, but he said a “couple of new opportunities have surfaced.”

Based on feedback from interested parties, the PSST planned to release a second version of the bidder information document on Nov. 30, just a few days before the Dec. 3 deadline for bidders to declare their intention to participate in the auction.

After Dec. 3, FCC anti-collusion rules effectively will prevent the PSST from conducting any “meaningful” conversations with bidders until after the auction, O'Brien said. However, this would not prevenet the PSST from educating other audiences, including potential public-safety users.

“I think we should begin [the education and familiarization process with public safety right away,” O'Brien said. “We're doing the advance work to be ready, if that's the decision [PSST board members] make.”

Such an education process appears to be necessary, based on comments made by some public-safety representatives at the IWCE/MRT Summit in Orlando last month. While some public-safety officials — particularly those with national organizations — have monitored the 700 MHz situation regularly, the remarkably fast pace of the proceeding has left many public-safety representatives with inaccurate perceptions of the venture.

Others questioned whether first responders need a broadband data network.

A week after the release of the bidder information document, O'Brien said there had been “nothing negative” in the feedback to it from the FCC, potential bidders or public safety. This response not only reinforced O'Brien's belief that some previously interested operators are willing to bid on the D Block, but he said a “couple of new opportunities have surfaced.”

“I have to be out of bed and on the truck in one minute, I have to reach the furthest point of my response district in five minutes, and I have to enter the structure upon arrival in one minute,” said one 18-year firefighter during a 700 MHz session. “I don't have the time for video, I don't have time for data transmission, and I can't think of a situation as a responding firefighter where I'd use that. … Mission-critical voice is the only thing that drives what we do to make our mission successful.”

Ben Holycross, radio systems manager for Polk County, Fla., echoed this sentiment, noting that “two-way voice radio is king” for first responders' mission-critical communications. However, he later acknowledged the value that building blueprints and other database information — accessible via a broadband wireless network — could provide to incident commanders making tactical and resource decisions.

Holycross also expressed concern about the monthly fees public-safety entities would have to pay a profit-driven commercial operator to build a network that provides the coverage and reliability that first responders want.

Indeed, a requirement that every site be hardened to public-safety standards would make the endeavor economically untenable for a commercial operator, O'Brien said. Instead, the PSST's bidder information calls for “critical sites” in the network to have eight hours of battery backup and a five- to seven-day fuel supply for generator power, as well as redundant backhaul at some sites.

Detailing the SWBN business model will be a major component of negotiations between the PSST and the D Block auction winner. In its bidder information document, the PSST noted its desire to “own” the public-safety customer; to receive some revenue for each public-safety subscriber; and to receive a fee from the D Block licensee for leasing the public-safety spectrum, which the D Block licensee can use to support its commercial offerings.

Until a network-sharing agreement is reached, the PSST has no revenue stream to support its operations. PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said Cyren Call is trying to arrange financing that would allow the PSST to operate in the interim.

“We will borrow the money to keep [Cyren Call] operating and us operating for a year,” McEwen said. “At that time, a network-sharing agreement hopefully will be completed, and we will get some income — based on that agreement — from the D Block winner.”

Based on his discussions with potential bidders, O'Brien said he believes the PSST will be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement with the D Block auction winner.

“I'm pretty optimistic that what I expect the [financial and philosophical] gaps to be can be closed — not easily, but it can be done,” O'Brien said.

NETWORK PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS
In-building penetration margin Coverage availability Sector loading
Sector is loaded to this level of traffic.
Forward link throughput
▪ On-street
▪ Single user
▪ Average cell edge throughput
Reverse link throughput
▪ On-street
▪ Single user
▪ Average cell edge throughput
Dense urban 22 dB 95% 70% 1000 kb/s 256 kb/s
Urban 19 dB 95% 70% 1000 kb/s 256 kb/s
Suburban 13 dB 95% 70% 512 kb/s 128 kb/s
Rural 6 dB 95% 70% 512 kb/s 128 kb/s
Highway 6 dB 95% 70% 128 kb/s 64 kb/s
Source: PSST