National Interoperability Network's Time Has Come, Panelists Say

Public safety communications would benefit from national broadband network.

by / March 24, 2009

A failure to take advantage of the current climate regarding the development of a national interoperability network would mean the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, warned at a general session at the IWCE Conference, Friday, March 20, in Las Vegas.

McEwen and a panel of experts discussed the prospects of a nationwide 700 MHz broadband data system and the most recent FCC proposal regarding the D Block spectrum.

"If this proposal doesn't succeed, we will lose a one-time opportunity to dramatically improve public safety communications," McEwen said.

The FCC has come up with a new proposal to auction the D Block in the 700 MHz band, after failure of the D Block national license to sell in auction last year. The new proposal "marries" the D Block commercial spectrum with the existing public safety spectrum. It would be paid for by commercial carriers in a public-private partnership.

AT&T, represented by Stacey Black, executive director of Government, Education and Medical Markets, favors the public-private partnership model but insists the public safety community must lead the way and that the money should flow to the locals from the commercial entity, which would manage the system but not use it.

"We didn't agree that the build-it-and-they-would-come approach would work," Black said of AT&T. "The RFP approach is more realistic. Public safety would use the vehicles they have today to use the RFP process to procure services; that's how money would flow to the locals."

In the meantime, public safety agencies can take advantage of some of the spectrum available, such as 4.9 GHz, one of the better options, according to Greg Henderson, director of Broadband Products and Technology for Tyco Electronics.

The 4.9 band is ideal for bandwidth-intensive applications like video surveillance. It's good for intelligent transportation applications as well, such as message signs. It would be a great complement to the 700 MHz spectrum, which, according to Henderson, provides "an order of magnitude better coverage."

The panelists agreed it could be months or longer before movement is made toward the national network but agreed that with the interest of the current administration in broadband, the time is now.