Public-safety must control broadband
Considerable buzz has been generated recently around numerous public-safety broadband propositions, including the Cyren Call proposal to build a public/private network in the 700 MHz band. That’s great, because broadband is the future of public safety. It provides capabilities that are impossible over today’s land mobile radio systems and also presents opportunities by leveraging the economies of scale of the commercial technologies at 4.9 GHz and 700 MHz.
Despite these potential alternatives, public safety should not overlook a major opportunity — the wide-area broadband spectrum the FCC, through the Eighth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking — which was adopted in March — is likely to deliver to public safety for its complete control.
Although their costs to jurisdictions are still speculative, privately financed systems with partially dedicated/shared capacity for public safety might be better solutions compared with existing commercial offerings. However, operating its own network will give public safety advantages borne of having full control over the airwaves, including:
assurance that significant capacity is dedicated to emergency communications;
ability to securely integrate new users to the network as required at an incident;
ability to adjust priorities and quality of service to ensure timely delivery of information to intended recipients as required at an incident;
control over all subscriber device capabilities, as opposed to the commercial carriers that limit such access (e.g., connecting a notebook computer through a tethered PDA’s broadband modem); and
decision-making that focuses on the public safety bottom line — the public’s safety — unlike the CDPD service shutdown that served the commercial carriers’ interests. No external business plan will determine the fate of public-safety communications.
Granted, there are some expenses associated with building such a network, but existing investments by governments nationwide have resulted in significant available infrastructure that minimizes the deployment costs of a broadband network at 700 MHz. Actually, in urban and suburban areas, public safety can probably operate their own networks for less than the cost of commercial services. In addition, broadband equipment prices continue to decline.
To enjoy the benefits of broadband technologies under its complete control, public safety must reinforce the importance of this capability through the current rulemaking efforts. It must also begin the coordination process, within its regional planning committees, regarding its valuable 700 MHz data spectrum. A substantial benefit of these broadband technologies is the ability to reuse the same frequency. This translates into far simpler frequency coordination. However, if both wideband and broadband technologies are required in a region, significant planning will be necessary to permit their coexistence.
The District of Columbia has operated a wide-area broadband network for two years, demonstrating the benefits of public-safety broadband data interoperability. Building upon the success of this program and wishing to solve regional data interoperability up front, the National Capital Region (NCR) is implementing a regional broadband interoperable network it expects to launch in 2007. The Region 20 Regional Planning Committee already has developed a plan that includes the coexistence of broadband and wideband operations.
Wide-area broadband networks are required today to support pressing needs — such as streaming video — first responders have now. These needs will only grow in the future. It will take three to five years to realize a broadband solution under public safety control.
Public-safety agencies, therefore, must immediately start the development of their broadband plans to avoid any further delay in meeting the needs of emergency responders. Wideband and broadband spectrum sharing, build-versus-lease cost analysis and controlled versus commercial operations are among the multidimensional tradeoffs that must be considered soon so that public-safety agencies can fully understand the best uses of spectrum already awarded to them.
Each day that goes by without action is another day that public safety will have to wait for the solution.
Joe Ross and Guy Jouannelle are partners with Televate, LLC, a McLean, Va.-based consultancy that specializes in comprehensive system engineering and program management for 800 MHz rebanding, interoperable LMR systems and high-speed wireless data networks. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.