While the new administration was being formed, including the new FCC, it may have appeared that not much was happening in Washington, D.C., with public-safety communications. But in reality a lot of positive things were taking place within the public-safety community and with commercial network operators.
To start, almost all of the public-safety community is supporting a move to turn the D Block (the 700 MHz spectrum that was not won at auction) over to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to add to its existing 5X5 public-safety license. This would give the PSST 10X10, which is not only enough spectrum for major metro areas and to be used by public safety, it is enough for rural delivery of broadband education, health and other services as well. In the commercial world, AT&T, Verizon and probably others would back this proposal and both AT&T and Verizon have offered up their 5-9s back-end services. This means that the only thing the public-safety community would have to buy is the radio equipment for the new network.
Most of the public-safety organizations have come out in favor of LTE for use on the public-safety 700 MHz band, and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has begun working on network requirements for regional networks that would need to be built. Yes, "regional" because this system is no longer viewed as a nationwide network. Rather, it will be a series of regional networks tied together using an IP back-end. The result will be much the same as if the system had started out as a single nationwide network, and the PSST will still have control over a central license for the spectrum.
While all of this great work has been going on, Washington has been preoccupied with other things since Jan. 20 and no one has picked up the public-safety ball and moved it down the field. What will happen next? I believe the PSST and the other public-safety organizations should be ready to go to Washington as soon as the summer recess is over. Their first stop should be at the office of the president's new CTO, and other stops should include the NTIA chief and the FCC, and both houses of Congress, or at least at the offices of those on the various committees that will have a say in what happens now.
They need to let these people know that the public-safety community has developed a plan to build a nationwide public-safety system in a reasonable amount of time, for a reasonable amount of money, with commercial operators helping out, and with a common technology (LTE). Only two things are missing: the money to fund the PSST and the network buildout, and the government's blessing for turning the D Block over to the PSST. The public-safety community is ready to go to work to make this network a reality, but needs to enlist some assistance from all of the branches of the government I have mentioned, and perhaps a few more. It would not hurt for the City of New York and others to weigh in on this. The most important thing now is that the Beltway hears a common set of goals and solutions coming from the public-safety and commercial wireless communities.
Important advancements have been made while the feds were busy with other projects. Now it is time to let them all know that this work has, and is being, done, and to convince them to help move this network of networks along. How much funding is necessary will be open to debate, I am sure. Based on the following assumptions: (1) backhaul will be provided by major commercial network operators for a monthly fee; (2) the regional networks will be partially funded by local, city and state funding as well as Department of Homeland Security funding; (3) in rural America, funds will be made available from federal sources already involved in funding rural America services; and (4) the networks will not generate revenue during the first three years of buildout, my back-of-the-envelope figures indicate we should ask for $10 billion spread out over the three-year period.
To make sure we don't waste momentum, it is time for the public safety community to present its plan to those inside the Beltway in one loud and unified voice.
Andrew Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. www.andrewseybold.com