State RFPs for FirstNet highlight intriguing issues for public safety’s 700 MHz narrowband spectrum
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State RFPs for FirstNet reveal interesting situation for public safety’s 700 MHz narrowband spectrum
And that would be an absolute shame. One of the great aspects of the 700 MHz spectrum licensed to FirstNet is that it is adjacent to the 700 MHz public-safety narrowband airwaves, which is next to the 800 MHz public-safety spectrum that was established through the rebanding process. That’s a lot of potentially contiguous spectrum, and no sector probably will need it more in the decades and centuries to come than public safety.
What will U.S. public-safety communications look like in 20 years, 50 years or 100 years? We can have fun making guesses, but no one really knows. But I am confident that public safety will want all of its 700 MHz and 800 MHz spectrum, no matter what future technologies are in store.
It is time to develop a long-term roadmap for this spectrum, which today supports 700 MHz narrowband systems but could be leveraged to support broadband technologies in the long-term future. This should not be interpreted as a sign to rush LMR out of the door, as it remains the only proven way to deliver mission-critical voice services today. But examining what steps would need to be taken to share or repurpose the spectrum at some point in the future should be beneficial to all.
Of course, the mission-critical voice picture could change dramatically in the near future with the development of mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) over LTE throughout the world. If so, establishing a smooth migration path that will allow public-safety entities and regulators to plan logically would be very helpful—and the existence of such a roadmap should make it less tempting for Congress to try to pry the spectrum from public safety’s use by claiming temporary underutilization.
By developing a long-term roadmap for these channels, public safety should be able to have the kind of spectral foundation it can leverage for centuries. If this spectrum is lost by legislative or regulatory decree, public safety may miss out on future opportunities to leverage future technologies that operate on best on more than 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum.