LA-RICS works toward September public-safety LTE deadline, struggles with RF-emissions opposition
There is a lot of work to be done, but the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) still plans to complete the deployment of its public-safety LTE system by the end of September, although the project continues to receive opposition from groups claiming dangers from radio-frequency (RF) emissions.
On May 1, LA-RICS received the necessary federal approval to restart the public-safety LTE deployment, which is the largest of the five early-builder projects that are expected to provide real-world insights for the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network. As required local governments, LA-RICS has been conducting community outreach about the project, according to LA-RICS Executive Director Patrick Mallon.
“The outreach is going OK,” Mallon said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “There were a couple of sessions that were heavily attended by some naysayers. That created some issues for us, but we are moving forward on the vast majority of sites.
“We’ve got 14 sites completed now, we’ve got 20 under construction, and we’ve got 13 that are scheduled to start this week or early next week. In addition, we have other permits getting final review, and I think we’re going to finish close to 80 LTE sites by the end of August.”
Under the revised plan approved in the spring, LA-RICS reduced the number of LTE access sites from 231 to 80, with two new microwave sites deployed to bolster backhaul for the system. The number of access sites now has been reduced to 78, Mallon said.
“We had one city councilman ask us to pull a site out where there was significant opposition from his community,” he said. “Then, we had one of the sites where Supervisor Antonovich had identified for additional outreach, and we have a significant amount of opposition from there.”
Mallon said the opposition has been centered on concerns that the LA-RICS cell sites would generate RF emissions that could lead to cancer—a claim made by Los Angeles-area firefighters earlier this year that resulted in the original public-safety LTE deployment plan being scrapped.
“With both of those sites, we’ve had this group of individuals that want to stop any RF emissions from anything in Los Angeles, including Wi-Fi—they want to see Wi-Fi hot spots eradicated,” Mallon said. “So, they went into these two community meetings and did a bunch of fear mongering.”
“They brought in that Vice President [Joe] Biden’s son [Beau] died as a result of brain cancer that he received from cell-phone usage, that there are foreign countries prohibiting Wi-Fi from being installed in any of the schools, and that they are not allowing children to use cellular phones because of the Wi-Fi. The public bought the lies.”
Beau Biden did die of brain cancer, but Mallon said he does not know of any officials reports that linked the death to cell-phone use.
Mallon has stated on several occasions that the RF emissions from the LA-RICS cell sites—leveraging the same LTE technology that commercial carriers use in their networks—do not come close to approaching the FCC limits for wireless communications. In addition, the fact that the two LA-RICS cell sites were blocked does not mean those areas are void of wireless transmissions, he said.
“One of the sites we lost was at a sheriff’s station,” Mallon said. “Within 500 feet of the sheriff’s station, we found 30-plus Wi-Fi networks that a person could sign into.
“And, of course, one of the claims from this stoplacelltowers.com website was that there was a school right up the street from that sheriff’s station. We went to that school, and we found more than 20 different Wi-Fi network while we were parked in the parking lot in front of the school, including the school’s own Wi-Fi [system].”
All of the construction work to date has been on permanent fixed cell sites, of which there are 63 in the current design, Mallon said. In addition, the project calls for 15 cells on wheels (COWs) to be placed in stationary locations to augment coverage from the fixed cell site, he said.
Work on the COW sites is just beginning, Mallon said.
“We just approved the notice to proceed with acquiring the trailers last week,” he said. “Instead of acquiring cells on wheels with the equipment already installed on them, we’re acquiring the trailers with the mast, and we’re using the equipment that was previously purchased to actually complete the trailer.
“So, the eNodeBs that we have and the antennas that we have [for the COWs] are all being pulled from the inventory that we had previously acquired.”
Most of the LA-RICS public-safety LTE project is being funded with federal grant money from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which expires on Sept. 30, which is 11 weeks away. No extension of the statutory Sept. 30 deadline is expected, because it could only happen via an act of Congress.
While the focus of LA-RICS officials is on the LTE project, the organization also is tasked with deploying a P25 system for the region. The original plan called for many P25 antennas to be located on the same tower as an LTE antenna, Mallon said. With more than two-thirds of the permanent fixed towers in the original LTE proposal no longer in the plan, the P25 system will have to pursue other strategies to maintain the same coverage levels as designed.
“There is going to be some impact there, and we’re still evaluating the options,” Mallon said.