FCC commissioners yesterday released an order granting primary status to fixed 4.9 GHz links, which previously were given secondary status in the spectrum band dedicated to public safety.

"By clarifying that 4.9GHz fixed links that connect base and mobile stations used to deliver broadband services are afforded primary status under our rules, the commission is promoting more intensive use of the spectrum for broadband applications in the band," FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps said in a statement. "This, in turn, will provide first responders with greater ability to use emerging broadband technologies to share crucial broadband data and thereby assist those in need, address emergency situations and disasters, and save lives."

When the FCC established the 4.9 GHz band as licensed spectrum dedicated to public safety, most in the industry believed the frequencies would be used primarily to deliver broadband services in mobile environments, including ad-hoc networks created at the scene of an incident. While these mobile uses were given primary status, fixed 4.9 GHz links were given secondary status, which made many public-safety communications officials wary about using networks in the band for mission-critical applications.

With yesterday's order, the FCC removed "a lot of the regulatory uncertainty that customers had" about 4.9 GHz fixed applications, said Gregory Henderson, director of wireless broadband products and technology for Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems. As an example, Henderson noted one potential conflict between a fixed video-surveillance application at a nuclear power plant and an application that allows a law-enforcement officer to conduct a virus scan on a mobile laptop.

"Both of those are important, but you might argue that the video surveillance of the nuclear power plant is a more mission-critical application than the virus scan in the laptop," he said. "But, in the old rules, you would say that the virus scan in the laptop is primary and the video-surveillance link is secondary, and that's what we believe didn't make sense. It's up to the users how they want to use this spectrum, and they can make judgments as to what are the most important applications in the spectrum."

With the new rules, fixed applications and mobile applications are on "equal footing" as licensees try to resolve any interference issues, Henderson said.

"Rather than have the regulations state that some applications are more important than others, it's up to the individual users and public-safety officials to work with each other and manage interference, but they get to make the judgment about their own networks as to which applications might be more important," he said.