Public Safety Broadband

I would like to suggest that you read this excellent paper and that you share it with others within your organizations who are interested in next-generation broadband services, and with those who want to really understand the types of applications the public safety community is using today and contemplating for the future.

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given us a recap of some items we can expect to be in its Broadband Report to Congress to be delivered on March 17. Among these is a request for Congress to fund broadband with up to $25 billion. Some of the money would go to build the Public Safety National Broadband system, and some would be used to extend broadband coverage to rural America.

He also said that the FCC would “find” and re-allocate up to 500 MHz of additional spectrum for broadband services over the next 10 years, and the 700-MHz D Block would be auctioned without specific requirements for sharing with the public safety community. This particular 10 MHz of spectrum is vital to the success of the public safety system. Since the FCC will be coming up with an additional 500 MHz of spectrum, it seems strange that it would want to auction this 10 MHz of spectrum (5X5) adjacent to the spectrum already licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).

The first problem with this is that 10 MHz of spectrum is not enough for either the public safety community or a commercial operator to handle all of the data traffic in the top 50-75 urban areas. Those looking at the D Block to compete with incumbent 700-MHz spectrum holders should do the math. Even using LTE, 10 MHz of spectrum will not enable any new operator to compete with Verizon, which has 22 MHz of spectrum, or AT&T, which has at least 12 MHz of spectrum with 24 MHz in many of the major cities. So why is the FCC making this recommendation? Some within the FCC and some who don’t own 700-MHz spectrum believe that 10 MHz is all the public safety community needs.

The Chairman began his term by stating that the FCC would be driven by facts and empirical data, and its decisions would be fact-based in nature. Yet it has not looked at what the public safety community will actually need in the way of broadband spectrum in major urban areas. Perhaps it believes the hype that LTE will provide 50 Mbps of data speeds and capacity, which is not the case. In reality, in a 10-MHz portion of spectrum, the first iteration of LTE will provide data speeds somewhere in the range of 10-15 Mbps  of shared bandwidth, meaning the more devices needing to use this spectrum in a given cell sector, the less speed there will be for each of them.

What is being missed here is that public safety agencies respond to many different types of emergencies and when they do, it is not unusual for there to be a large number of vehicles on the scene. With an apartment house fire in a city, for example, there could be dozens of pieces of fire equipment and a large number of fire personnel on the scene, a number of police vehicles and personnel to help with crowd control and traffic flow, and multiple paramedic and ambulance personnel. The same thing is true for a police emergency, even a murder, where uniformed officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, and emergency services vehicles and personnel are needed. In each of these scenarios, for the duration of the incident, these vehicles and people are concentrated into a single area and will most likely be served by a single cell sector or at most, two cell sectors.

In each of these cases, if the public safety community is relying on data services to coordinate the incident and to receive updated information, feed video of the scene back to the dispatch or incident command center, and to work the scene, it is easy to see that the less spectrum you have the less efficient all of these services will be. Since the FCC Chairman has said that he will review data points and facts before moving forward, I would like to suggest that those within the FCC read a recent white paper published by the City of New York. It sets up the case for spectrum usage for broadband systems and was the work of the City Police and Fire Departments as well as New York City Information Technology and Telecommunications. This document should be reviewed and attention should be paid to the points it makes.

The reason is simple. New York City has its own private broadband system that has been in operation for a number of years. It is on the 2.5-GHz band and it uses a different technology than that proposed for the 700-MHz band, however, it provides valuable, real-world information about the types of data usage and the amount of data required for many of the applications being used every day. Further, since New York City has this system in operation, it has firsthand knowledge of what is required and knows what additional applications and services it plans to deploy.

Other cities are making use of commercial broadband services, but few if any have deployed as many different applications and services as New York City. Since this is a public document, we have posted a PDF copy of this white paper on our site and suggest that it is a valuable resource for the FCC where it has been filed but not necessarily widely read by various bureaus and departments, Homeland Security, lawmakers, commercial network operators, and equipment and device vendors. In other words, this document should be the starting point for anyone who wants or needs a real understanding of the issues facing the public safety community and the amount of data that will be required on a day-to-day basis and during local and larger incidents.

I would like to suggest that you read this excellent paper and that you share it with others within your organizations who are interested in next-generation broadband services, and with those who want to really understand the types of applications the public safety community is using today and contemplating for the future.

The FCC Chairman has asked for information and data, and New York City has certainly delivered the goods!

Andrew M. Seybold

700MHz Whitepaper on Spectrum Feb 2010 FINAL

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4 Comments on “Public Safety Broadband”

  1. sgblack says:

    I am not a policy hack, but in my personal opinion, this appears to be a case where despite good intentions [fact-based decision making], other forces came into play that trumped those intentions. I agree with Andy that a solid case was made to the PSHSB. Prior to the NYPD white paper, AT&T publicly shared statistics showing public safety data usage doubling each year and that its overall data usage had grown 4000% over the last 3 years. It also cited two public safety agencies who expected their data usage to increase exponentially in the next few years and the applications that would drive that usage. The NYPD paper did a great job in a technical quantification for the need for increased capapcity, but both submissions, were based on *future* needs, not *immediate*, and this flew in face of a government need to fix an *immediate* problem: what to do with the D block as part of the NBP. I think the Commission agrees that there may be a need in the *future*, and this was reinforced by the comment that if needed, public safety could have some of the 500Mhz of spectrum that the FCC hopes to get for the industry.

    The decision is dismaying to me as it will be more costly to add a non-contiguous band in the future, and will require new devices and eNode Bs. LTE also offers the ability to grow from 10Mhz to 20Mhz with a simple hardware key, without any service disruptions, and they stand to lose this capability as well.

  2. [...] operators’ networks so load sharing could be employed. Apparently the FCC was unimpressed by the NYPD white paper and the filings of several major carriers that proved, to me at least, that 10 MHz of spectrum is [...]

  3. [...] has collected from network operators, equipment vendors, and the public safety community itself. The data I have seen tells a very different [...]

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