Frontline Wireless offers an alternative 700 MHz proposal
Frontline Wireless, a two-month-old startup boasting a trio of high-profile industry leaders, this week unveiled its proposal for a 700 MHz nationwide, broadband public-safety network that would utilize spectrum currently allocated for both commercial and public-safety use.
In a filing with the FCC, Frontline outlined its proposal for a public-safety-grade broadband network to be built on at least 22 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 700 MHz band—12 MHz already allocated to public safety and 10 MHz currently earmarked for commercial auction.
“We think that would be adequate [spectrum],” Frontline Chairman Janice Obuchowski in an interview with MRT. “There may be others who say 30 [MHz is needed], but 22 is a pretty good number.”
Obuchowski said that having a large swath of spectrum would let the commercial operator realize the propagation advantages inherent at 700 MHz that can reduce overall network costs.
“With cellular technology, when you’re running out of spectrum, you typically build more cells, so you’re able to use the same spectrum more often,” she said. “But, if you have to start packing cells more densely just to get capacity, what’s the point?”
Frontline’s leadership team includes CEO Haynes Griffin, founder of Vanguard Cellular and past chairman of CTIA; Obuchowski, former administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA); and Vice Chairman Reed Hundt, who served as FCC chairman during the Clinton administration.
Frontline’s filing represents the public-private partnership proposal that would deliver a nationwide broadband network to public safety that would be built and maintained by a commercial entity. Cyren Call Communications has proposed that such a network be built using 30 MHz of the 60 MHz in the 700 MHz band scheduled for commercial auction early next year. The FCC has proposed building such a network on 12 MHz of 700 MHz already allocated to public safety.
Like the FCC proposal, an advantage of the Frontline plan is that it would not require any Congressional action, just FCC rules changes for the 10 MHz commercial spectrum described as the “E block” in the filing and the 12 MHz of public-safety spectrum. Bidders on the E block spectrum would be obligated to build a public-safety grade network that also would use 12 MHz of public-safety spectrum—airwaves that would be licensed to a national public-safety licensee.
But critics of the FCC proposal argue that the 12 MHz of public-safety spectrum may not be enough to meet public safety’s broadband needs, much less the commercial interests of any operator building the network. Cyren Call’s proposal calls for the network to be built on 30 MHz of spectrum, but the plan faces significant political hurdles, as it requires Congress to change the DTV laws passed just last year.
Unlike the Cyren Call and FCC plans, not all of the spectrum would be licensed to a single public-safety licensee under the Frontline proposal. Instead, the commercial operator winning the bid would be the licensee for the 10 MHz, while the public-safety entity would be the licensee for the 12 MHz of public-safety spectrum.
Exactly how the relationship between the two licensees would work has not been made public, other than the fact that public safety would have pre-emptive rights to the commercial spectrum in an emergency. Some details are expected to be released when Frontline files comments with the FCC in its proceeding on the service rules that will govern the 700 MHz auction, Obuchowski said.
And how a local public-safety entity would gain access to the spectrum when pre-emption is necessary is a detail that has to be addressed in a manner that’s not unique to Frontline, Obuchowski said.
“I think that’s an issue that is going to have to be ironed out under any one of these visions,” she said. “In the end, that would not be our call. We would be subject to the governance of the public-safety entity that managed this.”
One reason Obuchowski believes Frontline is better equipped to serve public safety is that it would be a wholesale network provider supporting MVNO-type models, not offering its network directly to commercial consumers.
“We’re an open-access, wholesale company. We would be offering roaming capacity to rural telcos, a dedicated network to public safety, and we would be offering capacity to a variety of these new entrants into the wireless space, typified by the Silicon Valley names,” Obuchowski said. “Hopefully, we’ll also serve some of the existing carriers who may not want to play in the 700 MHz [band] but see that it would be valuable to access this.”
Economists have questioned whether investors will make a return on their money spent to build a network that could be pre-empted at any time by public safety and is required to provide coverage in very rural areas, but Obuchowski said Frontline does not believe that’s a problem, noting the startup capital the company has raised already.
“The kinds of people who are investors are visionaries, and they are also as patriotic as most people consider themselves to be,” she said. “And the vision of being part of a pioneering, fourth-generation network that’s designed to accommodate a variety of needs and requirements is exciting to them.”