Comprehensive discussions needed in several key areas as communications-industry evolution accelerates
It wasn’t a long passage, and it probably was overlooked by most who watched the FCC recently pass rules associated with spectrum above 27 GHz that is expected to be critical to the deployment of 5G wireless technology in the United States. But FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel started what hopefully becomes a much more detailed discussion on an important subject: in-building wireless coverage.
“We need to look at the in-building equation,” Rosenworcel said. “I think the time has come for the broadband and wireless equivalent of LEED certification. Because the market should reward buildings that have dense networks of small cells and fiber backhaul needed for 5G service.
“New York City already has a similar program in place thanks to the efforts of Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg—who started a program to identify buildings with truly high-speed broadband. We need to build on this idea and extend it to communities across the country. Because as we all know about the Big Apple, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
This in-building topic is critical, because all signs point to the demise of landline telephone services. I frankly doubt that my 17-year-old son or any of his friends will ever pay to subscribe to a landline phone, even when they have families of their own; they would rather have the convenience and mobility of a cellular-based smartphone.
But they likely will need reliable connectivity, particularly during those unfortunate times when a call to 911 is necessary. The FCC has passed rules designed to improve the accuracy of location information delivered to public-safety answering points (PSAPs) when a 911 call is made from a wireless device, but the reliability of the fundamental connection can vary widely, depending on the carrier used and the building the caller is in when making the emergency call.
Meanwhile, when responders are dispatched to the location of an indoor incident, the coverage provided for public-safety devices—LMR today and potentially LTE in the future—can be unpredictable in many facilities. This needs to change, especially with the installation of energy-efficient windows making it more difficult for radio signals from outdoor towers to penetrate a building.
Even if a radio signal can be transmitted effectively indoors, the reliability of the connection can be degraded by RF jammers and cyberattacks. The FCC has rules against jamming, but it is not equipped to enforce them in an efficient or effective manner.
Cyberattacks are on the rise, and no one seems to be immune to them—both the private and public sectors have proven to be vulnerable. Not only do answers seem elusive, it is not clear which entities are responsible when breaches happen.
The FCC tried to include language about cybersecurity in its recent tech-transition order, but there are serious questions whether the agency has the expertise or the legal authority to really do much. The White House this week outlined how responses to cyberattacks should be coordinated, but something this important ideally would be developed on a more comprehensive basis, not as a presidential directive.
As complicated as these matters are, they pale in comparison to the tangled webs associated with expected explosion of solutions associated with drones, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT). No one wants regulations to put a damper on these burgeoning industries, but the reality that current governmental structures simply are equipped to handle the many nuanced policies that should address areas like cybersecurity, communications and airspace for these technologies that are very promising—but potentially dangerous, if things go wrong.
These innovations are coming, whether we are ready or not. After the November elections, leaders at all levels need to prioritize ensuring that we become ready. If successful, the economic and convenience benefits should be enormous. If this is not done, the potential for chaos and tragic situations—not to mention missed economic opportunities–could be significant.