Commercial partnership proposed for public-safety communications
Fledgling Cyren Call Communications, led by Nextel Communications co-founder Morgan O’Brien, today filed a bold public-private proposal with the FCC calling for public safety and commercial wireless carriers to use 30 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band to build a nationwide, next-generation wireless network.
In the proposal, O’Brien asks the FCC to reallocate nationwide spectrum from 747-762 MHz and from 777-792 MHz—swaths scheduled for a January 2008 commercial auction—to this shared network. This 30 MHz of spectrum would be separate from the 24 MHz of spectrum already earmarked for public safety in the 700 MHz band, O’Brien said during a conference call with reporters.
Public safety, represented by a “Public Safety Broadband Trust,” would hold the licenses, would have priority in network usage and would lease spectrum to commercial entities willing to build out public-safety-grade wireless broadband networks in given markets, said O’Brien, who is chairman of Cyren Call Communications.
In return for building out and maintaining the networks according to public-safety specifications, the commercial operators could use the infrastructures to offer commercial services using the considerable spectral capacity not used by public-safety users on a daily basis, O’Brien said. Such providers would be able to offer services at a fraction of the deployment costs that would be associated with paying an auction price for dedicated spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
This would let wireless operators enter commercial markets they might not be able to afford if spectrum was available solely at an auction price. Meanwhile, budget-challenged governmental entities would not have to fund the enormous capital expenditures associated with the buildout of a next-generation network. But O’Brien repeatedly emphasized that public-safety traffic would be given priority in the network, even if doing so would result in degradation of the commercial services offered by the provider during a heavy traffic period for public safety, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“Unless public safety has the preferred position, there is no way public safety could—or should—agree to share a network, so that is an absolutely essential element of our proposed design,” O’Brien said.
Such a public-private proposal is a stark contrast to that used today by public-safety entities, which typically own and operate their systems independently. But O’Brien said that traditional model has left first responders with communications tools that are significantly less feature-rich than the commercial systems used by the public they hope to protect.
“It is a relative history that public-safety communications system are behind—and falling farther behind every day—the state of wireless communications in this country,” O’Brien said, noting that public-safety communications equipment also costs more than commercial equipment, because the limited market undermines economies of scale.
“I call it the public-safety conundrum: With so few users, how do support the cost of the network to supply the needs [of first responders]?” he said.
Cyren envisions the terrestrial, wireless IP network consisting of 37,000 cell sites serving 99% of the U.S. population, O’Brien said. A complementary satellite-based IP network would fill coverage gaps and to provide redundancy in situations where the terrestrial network is unavailable—something that happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
O’Brien said Cyren has run several financial models to determine the economic feasibility of its proposal but declined to share specifics. However, money generated by the leases in heavily populated metropolitan areas likely would be used to offset the costs of deploying the network in rural areas, where the commercial opportunities are not great, O’Brien said.
O’Brien acknowledged that the Cyren proposal faces many hurdles. Perhaps the toughest aspects of the proposal will be trying to convince Congress to rewrite its plan for the 700 MHz auction and to persuade public-safety officials that they trust a commercial entity to develop a network that meets first responders’ needs for network reliability.
Despite these challenges, O’Brien said he and other Cyren officials plan to make the effort, beginning with speaking engagements throughout the country.
“We’re acting as if our lives depend on this, because—in some cases—they do depend on it,” O’Brien said.