Bay Area cities prepare for key vote on public-safety LTE
Representatives of governmental entities in the San Francisco Bay Area are scheduled to vote next Thursday to decide whether their public-safety agencies will participate in the deployment and operation of a much-anticipated LTE network for the region’s first responders that would be built by Motorola Solutions.
Members of the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications System (BayRICS) Authority next Thursday are expected to vote on the project, which likely will be smaller than originally envisioned. Proposed as 193-site LTE system, most discussions during last week’s BayRICS Authority meeting called for the number of sites to be reduced by at least 25% and that the public-access component of the proposal may be scrapped.
However, after considerable struggle getting governments in the area to approve site locations, seven entities had approved site agreements and several others are expected to complete similar deals before next week’s meeting.
“That is significant progress from the last board meeting. … We’re very pleased with that,” Derek Phipps, Motorola Solutions vice president, said during the meeting. “Based on the commitments that we have received … we are confident that the remaining site-use and access agreements will be executed to allow us to begin construction.”
Getting started on construction is big issue for Motorola Solutions, which has to complete at least two-thirds of the LTE project by Aug. 1 to avoid jeopardizing the $50.6 million federal stimulus grant that is helping pay for the network.
With this timeline in mind, the BayRICS Authority is scheduled to vote on the matter during its meeting next Thursday, although not all aspects of the system have been finalized, according to Barry Fraser, interoperability project manager for the city of San Francisco.
“We really don’t have the time to get more certainty,” Fraser said during the meeting.
Additional words of caution were provided by the technical advisory committee, which questioned whether the proposed LTE network from Motorola Solutions would meet public safety’s long-term needs.
“The BayRICS Authority should understand that the deployment of BayWEB, as is it is designed today, will likely require additional resources and enhancements, and should be considered as the first-phase Regional Interoperable Broadband 4G LTE network,” the technical advisory committee report states. “Additional commitment of resources in time and money will be required to add subsequent phases and enhancements to the system to meet Public Safety grade standards and thereby expand the user base.”
Given the resource constraints faced by many California government entities hampered by shrinking tax bases, the notion that additional funds might have to be invested in the LTE system is a concern. Some cities have indicated that they would support use of sites in their jurisdictions for deployment of the public-safety network, but their first responders might not use the system when it is first deployed.
On a positive note, Fraser expressed confidence that the FCC would approve a new 700 MHz spectrum lease that assigns the rights to the spectrum — licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) — to the BayRICS Authority.
In May 2010, the FCC granted a 700 MHz broadband waiver for early deployment of a public-safety broadband system to the city of Oakland, the city of San Jose and the city/county of San Francisco. In August 2010, the PSST signed a spectrum lease with the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” — a nonexistent entity that was not authorized by the waiver cities to sign a spectrum lease.
This spectrum dispute is one of several controversies that have plagued the Bay Area Wireless Enhanced Broadband (BayWEB) project, which was selected to be the subject of $50.6 million in federal stimulus grants. However, unlike other public-safety stimulus projects, the money was not earmarked for the participating government entities but for the chosen vendor, Motorola Solutions.