March 2, 2007 10:00 AM PST

Public safety bids stir spectrum spat

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These groups claim that additional spectrum would help public safety agencies deploy broadband communications systems that would fix problems experienced on September 11, 2001, when radio interoperability problems plagued emergency workers.

While these groups have advocated for more spectrum, they've stopped short of endorsing any one company's proposal to provide emergency-network services.

Cyren Call, the company started by Morgan O'Brien, wants to create a broadband trust that would raise roughly $5 billion from private investors to pay for the 30MHz of spectrum that he wants the government to set aside. And instead of Congress or local governments footing the bill to turn this spectrum into a network, Cyren Call proposes that private investors would pay the cost of deploying the equipment to build the networks.

But critics say the spectrum auctions would likely raise billions of dollars more than what the Cyren Call plan offers to pay. And they add that it may be difficult to find investors willing to foot the bill or such a network.

The Frontline proposal differs from Cyren Call's proposal because it is not asking for a spectrum grant. Instead, Frontline is willing to bid on the spectrum at auction, but it wants the FCC to set aside a sliver of the spectrum and mandate that whoever buys this piece of spectrum--whether it's Frontline or some other entity--be required to give public safety a priority should there be an emergency. The company also plans to deliver a wholesale service to mobile operators and other companies that want to sell wireless broadband services.

"Carriers already voluntarily provide priority for public safety in an emergency," said Janice Obuchowski, chairman of Frontline Wireless. "But we are suggesting that we make this more official. Make it a condition of the license."

But some critics say that allocating additional spectrum is unnecessary. The government has already set aside some spectrum in other bands for public safety. And with the 24MHz of spectrum allocated from the 700MHz band, public safety officials have roughly 47MHz of spectrum, said CTIA's Farren. He believes that is more than enough spectrum to serve the entire public safety community.

"Some of our members are able to serve 15 million subscribers with 47MHz of spectrum," he said. "At the most there are probably 10 to 12 million public users and first responders in the whole U.S."

Research analyst Entner agrees that first responders have enough spectrum already.

"We'd have to declare a police state to need all that spectrum," he said. "What they need to do is build next-generation networks that use the spectrum more efficiently. And that's not a spectrum issue, but a technology one."

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802.11 N (draft N so far) multiplies spectrum infinitely
because the multiple antennas can re-use the same bandwidth many times.

I saw a demonstration of an antenna system that could do 200 simultaneous full bandwidth WI-FI connections.

The bandwidth limitations of an isotropic antenna need to be left in the digital dust.

Of course any new technology is held back by people with a financial interest in maintaining the old way. The cell phone and wireline carriers have succeeded in stonewalling the adoption of 802.11N standards to such an extent that the WI-FI group is labelling DRAFT-N equipment just to get this exciting new technology out to the public.

Why are they fighting it so? If i can have a 500 meg channel to my house for free, why should i pay cable-landline-cellphone companies for their puny deliveries?
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
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WiFi is important
The unfortunate part is that WiFi is under section 15 technology.

This means that the spectrum used by it is not granted specifically for WiFI, it is permitted use of the spectrum only under the condition that the transmit power levels are kept under a certain limit.

The result is that while it can support a bunch of devices, they have to be relatively close in proximity to the access point.

If your phone and internet are down in an emergency, your WiFi access points are likely also down.

Something like WiMax has a much longer range than WiFi because it is FCC licensed and has higher power levels.

One solution could be to use something like WiMax to bring up all the WiFi access points, and use VoIP phones etc.

The technology to do this isn't quite there yet, but this is an area that tends to progress quickly in comparison to the technologies using the rest of the spectrum.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
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Why not harden the "regular" networks?
First off, I agree that 24 MHz is probably enough for emergency communication and if it isn't, we have a police state or a technical problem.

Second, I would say the large majority of emergency communication today takes place on public networks like cell phones and the internet.

I would say finding ways to set up wireless trunks for cell phone towers and WiFi hotspots is nearly as important.

It is a shame the American Radio Relay League are a bunch of old farts still bitter that morse code is no longer required to get into their little club, because they have the manpower, know how, the organization, the spectrum, and the operating licenses to set up some of these wireless backhauls in emergency areas.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) could potentially handle something like this, like many emergency services, the equipment they use is mostly still stuck in the stone age (Thanks ARRL!).

Dachi <- closet ham tech
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
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Is 24 MHz enough?
You being your argument by stating that "24 Mhz is probably enough for emergency communications" and support that argument with the opinion that "the large majority of emergency communications takes place on public networks".

Your supporting statement indicates that there is insufficient bandwidth in the set aside area for emergency communication because emergency responders have taken to using public networks to augment their meager bandwidth in the electromagnetic spectrum. Having been a first responder, team lead for confined space rescue operations, it is a terrifying and dangerous situation when your radio communications are being stepped on by too many people needing to operate at the same frequency. This was demonstrated to the extreme on 9/11. Relying on cellular communication during a disaster seeks only to exacerbate the problem as thousands of people call home to assure everyone that they are fine while others clog the airways trying to find out if there loved ones are okay. Emergency responders need the best, most reliabe communication system that we can give them and part of that are clear channels of communication.
Posted by thinkermonkey (7 comments )
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