700 MHz saga filled with unlikely realities
It’s hard to believe that it was just 17 months ago when Cyren Call Chairman Morgan O’Brien told IWCE attendees of his vision for a public-private partnership to build and maintain a nationwide, public-safety-grade, wireless broadband network on 700 MHz spectrum.
At the time, several attendees said the proposal was intriguing, but no one expected anything to come of it, if only because Congress was unlikely to revisit a law it had passed just a few months earlier. Indeed, that proved to be the case and the original Cyren Call proposal was dismissed by the FCC and never was considered seriously by Congress. Some observers felt that was the end.
What didn’t die was the public-private vision, especially as federal officials learned more about the funding difficulties facing public safety. Now, less than a year and a half after O’Brien gave his IWCE address, an FCC plan structured similar to the Cyren Call proposal is being pursued on different spectrum — 10 MHz of commercial spectrum and 10 MHz of public-safety airwaves.
And Cyren Call almost certainly will be filling the role it envisioned, as agent/advisor to the national public-safety licensee — it has been selected for the job by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), the only entity that applied to serve as the national licensee.
Not only has Cyren Call come full circle, but the greater irony revolves around PSST President Harlin McEwen. An outspoken critic of IP technologies, McEwen is in position to help oversee the deployment of one of the largest IP networks in the world, if everything goes according to plan.
If someone had told him 18 months ago that this would happen, what would he have said?
“I probably wouldn’t have believed them,” McEwen said, laughing.
McEwen clarified his position on IP networks in an interview with me this week, noting that he believes the IP networks in existence today “are not reliable to the specifications of public safety.” And he’s not just talking about the public Internet.
“When you’re talking about closed networks, every day I see failures and I see glitches,” McEwen said. “For me, because I’m not doing things in a mission-critical world at the moment, it’s annoying and frustrating but it isn’t going to mean somebody’s life or death.
“The idea is not to abandon mission-critical land mobile radio. My concern is using IP in the traditional mission-critical world before it’s fully developed.”
That said, McEwen also is quick to note the rapid improvements of IP technologies that are in the marketplace today or will be in the near future. By leveraging such tools, the PSST’s goal is to ensure that the nationwide public-safety network is “as reliable as possible.”
Work toward that end is underway. A draft of technical public-safety requirements is being released today to various public-safety organizations, and McEwen said he wants as many members of the public-safety community as possible to provide their input — something that has been difficult to date, given the short timelines involved in the 700 MHz process.
“We’re looking mainly for public-safety feedback, because we’ve had some public-safety people [offer ideas] but not as many as we would like,” he said.
Hopefully, this feedback will help to forge a final statement of requirements — which also will include some financial stipulations for the commercial operator of the nationwide 700 MHz network — that will be enough to provide public-safety the reliability it needs while still making the endeavor economically practical for the commercial partner.
It would be great if the final chapter in this saga saw public-safety officials applauding the reliability of a network built and maintained profitably by a commercial service provider, something no one would have contemplated two years ago — and which some still doubt. However, given the circuitous routes that Cyren Call and McEwen have taken to assume their current roles, maybe this 700 MHz story is one in which the unlikely is destined to happen.
E-mail me at [email protected].