ORLANDO--While most in the public-safety community are focused on the exciting applications that will be available to first responders in the field once the 700 MHz high-speed network is deployed several years from now, there might be another benefit that officials will find just as exciting: far less expensive radios in the future. So said Derek Poarch, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, speaking at today’s IWCE-MRT Summit.

“Anyone who has deployed a public-safety radio systems knows that a $3000 handset should cost 10 times less than that,” Poarch said, adding that he believes the economies of scale that would be achieved by vendors charged with developing systems and equipment for a nationwide network will dramatically drive down handset costs. Another cost benefit, particularly for local agencies, is that they will be able to operate on the network without any upfront investment.

“If you’re a police chief in a very small town who’s thinking about going to 700 [MHz], going to your city council or county commissioners, to get the $6 million to $7 million needed to do that is largely unattainable,” Poarch said. “But you can say to them that you’re going to join a nationwide network without investing millions and millions, but only will pay monthly recurring costs to participate in this. It’s easier to budget year to year to year for recurring costs than it is for a multimillion-dollar startup, which would be difficult for most places across the country.”

He also discussed briefly the four latest additions to the public-safety licensee board, announced Friday, that will guide the commercial entity that builds the network—the American Hospital Association, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of State 911 Administrators and the National Emergency Number Association. Poarch said a decision on the public-safety licensee likely would occur “sooner than anyone thinks.” But he stopped sort of announcing that the Public Safety Spectrum Trust—the sole applicant for the licensee role—is the commission’s choice, an outcome that virtually all observers believe is inevitable.

Poarch also provided visibility on the well-behind-schedule configuration of the 800 MHz band. He said that a plan has been developed regarding the reconfiguration of licensees along the U.S.-Canada border, and added that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding this plan can be found on the FCC’s Web site. “We’re very pleased with our negotiations and on-going dialog with Canada,” he said, adding that negotiations with Mexico, while positive, “haven’t progressed as quickly.” However, Poarch said negotiations with Mexico should start up again in a few weeks and he hinted that a conclusion could follow soon. “I think we’re very close to a positive outcome on those negotiations,” he said.

While Poarch acknowledged that some public-safety licensees—primarily those serving very large areas or rebanding statewide systems—would need an extension beyond the June 27, 2008, deadline, he reiterated a position first expressed at the Association of Public-Safety Communication Officials’ conference in August that the majority of licensees would be rebanded by the deadline and that most licensees shouldn’t count on getting extensions.

“Is rebanding going to happen if everyone sits around waiting for the magic wand? Absolutely not,” Poarch said. “Sprint Nextel is working very hard. Motorola, M/A-COM and other companies are working very hard. But they can’t do this without public safety doing its part.”

Poarch said the time has come for public safety to be proactive in the rebanding effort.

“You have to work at this. … If there are groups out there waiting for the commission in March or April of next year to say that we’re going to extend this thing by two or three years, they better pick up the pace, because it’s not going to happen.”