The bigger picture (with related video)
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While transportation partnerships with public safety may be possible technically and even advisable from an operational and financial perspective, actually establishing the necessary agreements between the entities could be a daunting task, according to mobile wireless consultant Andrew Seybold.
One issue is the amount of spectrum available for the 700 MHz public-safety LTE network. With Congress allocating the 700 MHz D Block spectrum, the opportunity for public safety to partner became a realistic option in most of the U.S. However, in the largest metropolitan areas, such as New York and Chicago, Seybold has expressed concern that public safety might not have enough airwaves to serve its needs, much less the needs of partners.
"The railroads all run through major metro areas," Seybold said. "So you have a system that works only 90% of the time? That doesn't work [for the railroads]."
If transportation entities are willing to fund the deployment of additional LTE sites that would increase the capacity and coverage of the public-safety network, that could address the capacity concerns and make the broadband network more robust for all subscribers. But it could be difficult to reach such deals, because there is no single entity to represent the entire transportation sector in negotiations at the federal or even the state level, Seybold said. Reaching agreements at a local level could be done, but it may be more time-consuming than FirstNet wants.
"The question is, 'Who's going to do all of this, and who's going to figure it all out?'" Seybold said. "I really don't know what the answer is. The question is, 'What granularity is FirstNet going to look at this with, and who is going to run all of this?' What we have just talked about is a horrendous amount of work. It would take a … 100-person organization just to figure all of this out."
While the process promises to be challenging, the potential benefits of public safety partnering with the transportation sector and other entities is so great that all necessary steps should be taken to pursue such agreements, Einsig said.
"In the end, I think that's what it's going to take to get this network built," Einsig said. "It's going to take that collaboration of [all the stakeholders] to distribute this information in a logical manner."