A call to arms
I’m not sure that there’s been a hotter topic this past year than the 800 MHz interference proceeding. By now, you’re probably tired of hearing about all of the fighting. However, if you’re a public safety licensee at 800 MHz, the time has come for you to be individually involved in the proceeding, regardless of your position.
I must start off by saying that, on behalf of PCIA and ARINC, I was part of the committee which drafted the “Consensus Proposal,” discussed below. Further, on behalf of numerous public safety, SMR, manufacturers and private system users, I have filed comments in the proceeding. So, there are my prejudices.
As of this writing, the facts are:
800 MHz licensees, both public safety and non-public safety, are receiving interference. More than 700 cases have been documented, and only a couple of dozen of these problems have been permanently mitigated. The cause is primarily Nextel, but a significant number of interference cases have involved the cellular A (and sometimes cellular B) licensee, either in combination with Nextel, or even with Nextel completely off the air. And without a significant change in the FCC’s rules, the problem will get worse as carriers build-out more rural markets, and use more (and lower) sites in more urban areas.
While there have not been any accidents yet, I’m aware of at least two “near misses” with one of the public safety agencies that we represent, where officers were in dangerous situations on the street and needed to call for backup but were unable to because of interference from Nextel as well as the cellular A carrier.
Although there is interference, the fact remains that Nextel, as well as the cellular carriers, are operating within the terms of their authorizations. Because of this, it becomes difficult for the FCC to impose retroactive rule changes, particularly where, as here, there is no real definition in the FCC’s rules that provides specific guidance as to what level of intermodulation and OOBE is supposed to be protected.
There are essentially three options (you can create your own combination of these) the FCC is considering as of mid-July. In summarized form, the proposals are:
The “Consensus Proposal,” consisting of Nextel, PCIA, ITA, APCO, IACP, IAFC, FIT, ARINC and a host of others. Briefly, this proposal provides that public safety licensees in the NPSPAC frequencies would be moved en masse to the current General Category channels (851-854 MHz), and current 851-854 MHz licensees would be moved to 854-860 MHz. Nextel would vacate all of their channels below 861.0125 MHz, therefore creating a separation between “cellularized systems” and traditional dispatch systems, as well as vacating all of the 700 MHz spectrum bought in the recent auction (which would be dedicated to public safety), and vacating all of their 900 MHz spectrum. The excess 800 MHz spectrum that is not used in the swapping process would be available to public safety licensees exclusively for five years (which is quite a number of additional channels in some major urban areas), and the excess channels would be available to other applicants after that. In exchange, Nextel would receive 10 MHz of spectrum in the 1.9 GHz band (5 MHz of which is allocated but not yet used for satellite systems, and 5 MHz allocated for unlicensed PCS systems which have not developed, and all 10 MHz of which have incumbent microwave licensees that must be moved).
The Consensus Proposal also provides very specific protection parameters for non co-channel licensees (Appendix F of the December 2002 filing). All relocation costs would be paid by Nextel, similar to what occurred over the past couple of years on the upper SMR channels. Eighty percent of private system licensees would not need to re-tune in any fashion.
This coalition’s filed documents(and others mentioned) are available on line at http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi, and we’ve posted our filings here: http://www.shulmanrogers.com/Nexteldocs.html
The “Balanced Approach,” is supported primarily by UTC, CTIA (and other cellular carriers), the City of Baltimore and some SMR operators. Briefly, this proposes no separation of technologies and no mandatory relocation, but rather “mandated mitigation through best practices.” In other words, the FCC would codify the “Best Practices Guide,” which APCO, Nextel and others created, and require parties causing interference to mitigate that interference within 60 days. Further, consensual spectrum swaps would be encouraged, and some more stringent technical rules would be imposed on 800 MHz licenses (but not cellular licensees). It would also require any 800 MHz licensee (but not cellular licensees) proposing to install a short antenna to provide certain information into a centralized database and provide notice to co-channel and adjacent channel licensees. 800 MHz licensees (but not cellular licensees) would be required to calculate system degradation to other systems using TIA TSB-88 algorithms (currently used for adjacent channel separation at 470 MHz). 800 MHz low site licensees (but not cellular licensees) would be required to limit their ERP to 100 watts or less. Again, there’s more to read on this on the FCC’s Web site.
Motorola has suggested to the FCC that some recent filtering developments would enable future private radios to be more tolerant to IM interference, and most existing Motorola radios could be retrofitted. Some see this development as the “magic bullet” that eliminates the problem.
Pick your poison. There is nothing perfect here, and anyone that tells you differently is misleading you or misinformed. Let’s briefly review the problems with each proposal.
Other than getting Nextel out of the 800 MHz spectrum below 861.0125 MHz, and therefore reducing interference, the Consensus Plan provides no benefits for non-public safety licensees. For those 800 MHz non-public safety licensees who bought spectrum to force Nextel to buy them, this might severely damage their business plans. Of course, even though the re-locations will be fully compensated by Nextel, it is a pain and a business distraction to move.
In addition, some parties have argued that the value of the spectrum that Nextel would receive far exceeds the value of the spectrum that it is giving up (Nextel, of course, disagrees). UTC has argued that licensees directly below 861.0125 MHz would be “second-class citizens” because they would have less interference protection than licensees further down the band (even though any specific interference protection is absent from the rules today). The satellite interests have naturally complained about the “giveaway” of the 1.9 GHz spectrum that they are not using, and there must be some additional consideration given to the situation in San Diego, because of its proximity to the Mexican border. A couple of business licensees who are board members of trade associations, but don’t have to move under this proposal, have said to me that they oppose the proposal on “philosophical” grounds.
Finally, while no licensee would be required to move without compensation, some have legitimately worried about what would happen if Nextel ran out of money. In sum, while it is the most complete interference resolution from a technical standpoint, it is also the most difficult solution on the table to implement.
The “Balanced Approach” and its concept of voluntary relocations does nothing for public safety licensees on NPSPAC frequencies, as those can’t be swapped on a one-off basis. Because the mitigation is after the fact, public safety licensees remain in danger from the inability to communicate at a geographic location where the radio might have worked yesterday, as we have seen that different combinations of frequencies produce a variety of results, some of which cannot be readily predicted.
Further, all of the restrictions to be applied exclude cellular licensees, and essentially put restrictions on Nextel that might make Nextel unable to compete against those entities (yes, I can read your thoughts on that one, so save your letters).
Finally, some cellular carriers have been less than fully cooperative in resolving public safety interference (see the FCC’s Order in the Anne Arundel County zoning proceeding and the City of Denver’s Ex Parte filing), so how they are all of a sudden going to be cooperative when there is a rule, as opposed to merely when lives are in danger, is a mystery to me. This approach minimizes private system licensee heartburn, minimizes the number of relocations, maximizes private system licensee spectrum value, maximizes pain on Nextel, and leaves public safety more vulnerable than the Consensus Plan.
Motorola’s filter development is no doubt a good one, and I hope that it proves itself in the field. However, as pointed out by a number of parties, it is not in and of itself a solution. Even if it was, there is considerable cost involved in retro-fitting radios, and as much as it would be nice to just say, “Nextel pay for it” (or since Nextel uses Motorola equipment, “Motorola pay for it”), Nextel isn’t going to volunteer (and probably can’t be forced) to pay for the retro-fits, if Nextel gets nothing in return.
Because the FCC has heard from few individual public safety agencies, but has heard from many individual non-public safety agencies, it might appear to decision makers that this is not a huge problem for public safety agencies. We know otherwise.
While public safety trade associations have done a great job representing their respective constituencies in this proceeding, there also needs to be a grass roots effort by public safety 800 MHz licensees to show that this is not merely a Washington, D.C., issue. Public safety licensees must individually let the FCC know that it must be pro-active, not reactive, and any decision which places the “philosophical” objections of parties above the safety of officers is not acceptable. I’d hate to have to explain to my aunt why I didn’t expend the greatest effort possible to protect her son, an Anne Arundel County police officer, and you don’t want to face her, either.
I recognize that few public safety agencies have the resources to spend on these types of issues. However, I would suggest that this is one where you must.
A perfect vehicle for this exploration will be at APCO’s Annual Meeting. APCO will have a “SuperSession” on this issue, as well as an 800 MHz Resource Room. Our law firm will have a booth at the show to answer questions and describe how each proposal impacts you. If you won’t be there, let me know, and we’ll put together educational pieces for you. Get the facts, not the hype, and participate. It’s too important not to.
Alan S. Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio, Internet and entertainment industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.