Happily, the unthinkable has occurred
The FCC took a bold, brave step with its creation of the 700 MHz public/private partnership. This decision represents the most radical departure in the allocation of wireless spectrum since the FCC received auction authority.
Kudos to Cyren Call for its hard work in making this happen. Congratulations to the public-safety community for its willingness to think outside the box and accept concepts that only a few years ago might have been unthinkable.
Now that the concepts and rules have been established, the truly hard work begins. Relationships must be established, an auction held and a partnership created. The partnership will require different thinking. Instead of today's standard wireless systems, commercial or private, there will be — for the first time — a nationwide network built to serve the critical needs of public-safety users, while a network provider feeds the financial engine.
Is it possible to built such a network and make it profitable? Can a single nationwide licensee work with local public-safety users to create a truly interoperable network? Will manufacturers be interested in creating devices that deliver all of the promises — and cost benefits — envisioned?
The most difficult question to answer, however, will be whether the network can be built to public-safety specifications and if a public-safety priority pre-emption system can be developed. If that's possible, then the FCC and commentators have truly created something unique and special.
It's also wonderful that we're finally dealing with something productive and creative, instead of fighting over rebanding. I hope that this proceeding will bring enthusiasm and energy to the land mobile radio market, spurring innovation and technological advances at reasonable prices. I can't wait to see the first true crossover product that has all of the functionality of my PDA, plus the features and rugged specs needed for public-safety applications.
Many in public safety are understandably skeptical. For example, Sprint's data system went down recently, leaving my hometown police with no choice but to call dispatch for every data task, such as a license plate check. Public-safety users will ask how this can be prevented. Of course, even the most hardened public-safety system occasionally has issues, but we need to get to that 99.99% reliability factor in this communications system.
The innovation of the system being pre-emptible by public safety should be interesting to watch as it is developed and implemented. When a disaster occurs and pre-emption is needed, there won't be time for human interaction by a supervisor to climb up a decision-tree to provide the access — it will have to be immediate. On the other hand, every incident isn't an immediate, all-hands-on-deck call for priority access. A reasonable balance will need to be struck, and a procedure established, to ensure access is there when it's truly needed and consumers aren't needlessly bumped.
It also should be interesting to see what, if any, changes occur in the plans to upgrade any current public-safety radio systems. Does the prospect of having access to this 700 MHz system mean that a municipality should hold off doing a system upgrade and wait to see what products will work on both systems, if any? Or will the initial focus of the partnered system be data, which potentially could dictate a different upgrade path?
Almost like a daytime soap opera, these and other questions hopefully will be answered in the upcoming, intense amount of work that the commission's order necessitates. Stay tuned!
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at [email protected].