A righteous goal is within reach
Almost any description of the FCC's recent order setting forth plans for a wireless broadband public-safety network will invoke the term “unprecedented.” Those of us privileged to be working toward making this plan a reality are discovering what “unprecedented” really means. It means that each step in the path forward has to be invented: There are no established paths to follow. It means that existing relationships have to be rethought and that comfortable ways of thinking and of doing business may need to be abandoned. It means that both opportunity and risk are substantial and require careful weighing. At Cyren Call we find it invigorating to set out to explore unmapped terrain.
I welcome this chance to share with the readers of MRT my reaction to the process so far. I also want to encourage full participation in the creative thinking that now is under way throughout the industry. Ample use of the imagination is encouraged at this early stage. For example, it is generally assumed that a single entity (either an existing carrier or one formed just for the purpose of the auction) will acquire the 700 MHz D Block spectrum and thus serve as the “private” partner in the contemplated public/private partnership.
But why only one? Isn't it possible to imagine a consortium of partners, even partners that normally compete with one another, making an exception this one time, in the interest of public safety, and able to bring more resources to bear, more quickly, than any one player possibly could do alone? Many talents will be needed to bring the FCC's vision into reality, and I dream about what could happen if some “impossible” corporate pairings became possible.
I'd like to use this chance to clear up a serious misconception about how this network will be designed. I keep tabs on the blogs and have read that the proposed broadband network for public safety will be “closed” or “proprietary” and thus serve to limit competition and shut out promising new players. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a fundamental principle of the FCC's plan that this will be an open network based on a commercially available standard technology, for which multiple infrastructure vendors and scores of handset and device manufacturers will be encouraged to build. The great advantage of the FCC's choice of a single entity to hold the public-safety broadband license is that this allows one network with equal access to all interested public-safety users and offers a common technology platform that supports varied choices of devices and applications by local users who will enjoy competitive rates driven by national economies of scale.
It will probably be late February or early March before the auction ends and the six-month negotiation period with the D Block winner commences. Between now and then, I hope to travel around the country and learn more about what local jurisdictions will be expecting from broadband services. I understand that some pretty exciting stuff already is happening using the commercial broadband networks. Our job at Cyren is to understand best practices and the most innovative thinking so that we can make sure that the proposed network lives up to its fullest potential. I urge anyone who is interested in sharing such information with us to reach out through our Web site, www.cyrencall.com, and let us know how to make contact.
I love my job because it puts me right in the middle of a process that seeks to put the world's leading-edge wireless technology into the hands of the men and women who daily risk their lives to keep us safe. We live in an age of cynicism and hear a lot about “looking out for number one.” The strongest antidote to that kind of thinking is to spend time with our first responders. I've spent a lot of years learning how hard it is to drive change, and this task we have taken on undoubtedly is formidable. These difficulties simply do not matter where the goal is so obviously right. As a nation we will show the world that harnessing the capital and energy of our private sector is the best way to equip our first responders with technologies for keeping Americans safe and secure.
Morgan O'Brien is co-founder and chairman of Cyren Call Communications, the adviser to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust.