LTE endorsements a step in the right direction
This week’s announcement from the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to endorse LTE as its preferred technology standard for a proposed nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz band means four key public-safety organizations have backed the 4G technology.
This kind of consensus is important, because it sends a clear signal to commercial vendors — from chip-makers to carriers — that public safety wants to use LTE. Hopefully, such communications will allow the vendors to take the steps necessary to ensure that 700 MHz devices are built that also operate in the public-safety broadband spectrum.
Most industry sources believe such devices can be designed and manufactured economically from a technical perspective, if an appropriate business model is adopted — something the new FCC and Congress likely will influence greatly.
Certainly LTE appears to be the most logical base technology as a nationwide broadband wireless standard at 700 MHz, especially because the commercial operators in the band have expressed their intent to deploy LTE. Such deployments offer the promise that public safety would be able to leverage LTE’s economies of scale in a manner that would yield affordable communications gear.
However, the responder community would benefit if its devices include other communications modes, as well. In particular, the ability to access a satellite network when the terrestrial network is unavailable would be particularly helpful.
TerreStar Networks has announced that initial testing of its satellite/cellular smart phones using its next-generation satellite is proceeding well. According to satellite industry sources, the ability to access these next-gen satellites — being launched by several providers, not just TerreStar — can be added to any device for less than $5 per unit.
If so, adding satellite capability in first-responder handset used on the proposed 700 MHz network would make a lot of sense. Satellite has limitations like poor indoor coverage — there’s no way to get around physics — but having the option of going outside to get a clear view of the satellite to make a call would be a welcome inconvenience to a first responder compared to holding a brick in his/her hand because the device’s terrestrial network has gone down.
At some point, other terrestrial technologies that might arise also could be considered for first-responder devices, particularly if such technologies prove to be more cost effective in serving economically challenging rural areas.
“It’s going to be a progression, just like in the commercial sector,” said mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold, noting the multiband and multimode phones that are now available on the market.
In the meantime, an LTE network supported by satellite appears to be a solid choice in providing public safety with a potentially reliable communications path under most circumstances. Seybold said he believes public-safety organizations — including those that have endorsed LTE — should jointly draft a petition for the FCC to consider in an effort to get the public-safety network proposal on the Beltway’s front burner.
Whether this tactic or another is employed, hopefully public safety can get the attention of the FCC and Congress long enough to pursue this plan of action quickly. Let’s not wait until another major disaster happens to make this network a priority.