Public safety will need more spectrum, now or later
The mantra in the commercial mobile industry these days is: Give users more bandwidth, and they’ll continually find more ways to use it and drive up capacity limits — especially with the popularity of video services. Hence, the Federal Communications Commission is scrambling to find more spectrum for this broadband revolution.
Perhaps the commission, or at least FCC Chief Technologist Jon Peha, doesn’t believe the same trend will happen in the public-safety sector. Peha said last week on a panel that the 10 MHz public safety already has in the 700 MHz band, coupled with roaming agreements with commercial operators, will offer enough spectrum to fill its communications needs during even major incidents.
He must not believe that application developers or other third parties are going to court the public-safety community with innovative applications largely centered on video. Just like mobile applications and services are catching on in the enterprise, it’s not difficult to believe public safety continually will find more ways to increase safety and productivity using LTE services. Bring hospitals and utilities in the mix, and usage will jump significantly.
T-Mobile’s Kathleen Ham said during the same panel, which was sponsored by the New America Foundation, that public-safety officials should “expand their horizons” beyond the D Block debate by looking at other spectrum opportunities already in the hands of public safety: namely the 800 MHz band, the 400 MHz band or the 4.9 GHz band — all of which would bring separate headaches because of incumbency issues and economics. But that is a position that is expected from an operator like T-Mobile that doesn’t have the spectrum to deploy LTE. It would love to get its hands on D Block spectrum that doesn’t have public-safety strings attached.
Unfortunately, time is running short for public safety. The FCC wants to auction D Block spectrum early next year to commercial operators that, in turn, could allow public safety to use the spectrum via roaming agreements. This week a group of public-safety organizations formalized a partnership — called the Public Safety Alliance — that will campaign to convince Congress to re-allocate the D-block spectrum directly to public safety. Some Beltway insiders believe it has to convince Congress before this fall’s elections, if the FCC’s current auction timetable remains in place.
If it isn’t successful, public safety may just have to look for creative ways to find more LTE spectrum. Perhaps public-safety entities can strike a deal with WiMAX operator Clearwire, which is sitting on a vast amount of spectrum nationwide and has more than hinted that it wants to deploy the Time Division Duplex (TDD) version of LTE in the 2.6 GHz band. The operator’s entire strategy is signing on wholesale customers like Sprint, Comcast and Time Warner.
But in the end, the FCC shouldn’t be surprised when public safety once again comes pounding on the federal door for more spectrum.
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