Seybold's Take: How the wireless industry can work with first responders

Andrew SeyboldThis week, only two weeks before the big CTIA Wireless 2010 event, I will be in Las Vegas for a very different type of show--the International Wireless Communication Expo, for the two-way radio industry that includes public safety and two-way radio customers, dealers and vendors. For the past few years, IWCE has also been drawing companies such as AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and other commercial vendors and network operators. The reasons for this are many and reflect the fact that these two very different worlds are coming together.

The Federal Communications Commission and other agencies within the federal government are trying to help the public-safety community with its interoperability issues. This entire interoperability issue is foreign to those in the commercial wireless side of the business so let me try to put it in perspective. Suppose our cell phones worked only on a single radio band. Since most operators are using several bands (850 MHz, 1900 MHz, AWS and soon 700 MHz), we would have to carry several phones to be able to use cellular everywhere we went. In its most basic terms, this is the issue for first responders today. Their systems are spread out across many different bands of the radio spectrum and even with many vehicles equipped with two or more radios, they have problems communicating among departments.

Having spectrum that is adjacent to the new 700 MHz commercial spectrum would mean the public-safety community would be able to use commercial networks while it builds a nationwide broadband network of its own. Further, since the public-safety network will be using LTE, the same technology as commercial operators in this band, public-safety equipment should be widely available and less expensive than it is today. As outrageous as it sounds, each public-safety private network two-way radio costs between $1,000 and $2,500 today, so the cost of outfitting an average patrol car with two radios and a laptop computer with broadband capabilities can run as high as $10,000!

So IWCE, as well as the two-way radio industry, is undergoing a number of changes. Commercial network operators want to work with this sector to assist in making the transition to broadband, and they certainly would like more public safety and other two-way radio customers on their networks. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent will be there along with some device vendors, mostly to talk to two-way radio users to gain a better understanding of how different public-safety devices need to be and what the opportunities are...Continued

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