Why Public Safety and Rural BroadbandThursday, August 27, 2009
Lately, in my COMMENTARYs, blog postings, and a few articles for other publications, I have been writing a great deal about the need for public safety broadband on 700 MHz as well as for broadband services in rural America.
Perhaps some of you think I am spending too much time on these topics only because they are important to me, but to my way of thinking, there are plenty of opportunities here for the wireless community to make money in the public safety market, to partner with the two big public safety radio players, Motorola and Harris (as well as Icom, Kenwood, Tait, others), to work on seamless connectivity not only between the regional public safety networks but with the commercial networks as well, and to provide the applications that will be needed.
Yes, some reasons for focusing on these topics are personal, but the primary reason is that I see these areas as being new opportunities that can help businesses within the wireless industry to grow and flourish, and at the same time help public safety and rural America gain much need wireless connectivity.
I have public safety in my blood. I was a volunteer fireman and officer for many years and I have been a Cal Fire communications volunteer trained in wild land fire survival. I have been both a police and fire dispatcher, and for a number of years during the 1970s and into the late 1980s I worked for two-way radio companies and my accounts included large and small police, fire, and sheriff departments, and I enjoyed helping put together their communications systems.
I used to live in a rural community in the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz, Calif., and had no access to the Internet, then finally dial up, and then had to pay for an ISDN line just to get 128-Kbps service to our home/office, and I had to help RAM Mobile Data find a tower site so I could get BlackBerry coverage.
I spend a lot of my time on public safety and rural broadband. Sometimes I am paid by others but more often I give my time freely to these two “causes.” Perhaps you think I spend too much time writing about these subjects, so let me point out the opportunities that await companies both small and large.
Let’s start with public safety. There are about three million first responders in the United States. If you calculate the amount of new equipment they will need for 700-MHz broadband, you come up with about 25,000 cell sites, and at 1.5 devices per first responder, about 4.5 million devices.
These devices will not be your standard BlackBerrys and flip phones. At first they will be LTE USB dongles, notebooks, netbooks, and smartbooks with external and then embedded 700-MHz LTE. Then there will be a need for handheld voice-and-data devices designed for very specific types of uses and built so that a police officer can grab one and use it with a single hand, and a fireman wearing gloves can grab one and make it work. These devices must withstand rain, snow, sleet, being dropped, and even being used as a weapon, and their batteries must last for more than an eight-hour shift.
Beyond the three million first responders, there are others who will need these types of devices—tow-truck companies, utilities, and others—so perhaps the total volume over a four-year period will be five to six million devices. Note that there will be three generations of these devices that will overlap each other. First will be the vehicle-based systems, next the handheld data-only systems, and finally the all-in-one broadband and narrowband channels on both the 700-MHz and 800-MHz bands and a few devices that will need to work on 150 MHz, 450 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, and, of course, all of the commercial broadband spectrum as well.
As far as applications go, existing dispatch and database query programs will need to be enhanced and turned into mobile applications, and a whole host of new applications will be needed, e.g., for mixing multiple video feeds at a fire and supporting a command-and-control voice conversation at the same time. Voice will continue to be important and while LTE will, hopefully, be the technology used for the networks, public safety communications require some capabilities that are not built into LTE today, including one-to-many communications.
Broadband for rural America also offers opportunities in the areas of fixed wireless devices to DSL-or-better wireless services, mobile phone services, educational services, remote medical services, public safety, the electric Smart Grid, and much more. There will be many money-making opportunities for both well established and startup companies in both public safety and rural America broadband.
I guess the final reason I have chosen to spend so much time on these two topics is to keep my sanity in check as the Federal Government begins to investigate competition in the wireless space (yet again), look for a way to manage spectrum and a catalog of spectrum (yet again), take a new look at FCC and NTIA cooperation (yet again), and figure out how to provide more free unlicensed spectrum (yet again). The wireless community is getting beat up in DC simply because those who have come late to the wireless party think existing wireless companies are ripping everyone off—even though we enjoy some of the lowest wireless rates in the world.
But I digress. Because my blog and COMMENTARY postings are not on a specific schedule, and because I can write about anything I want to, I will keep up with what is happening in the rest of the wireless world, putting in my two-cents worth as I always have. But please believe me when I say that the two most important things happening in wireless right now are the public safety spectrum and network issues, and the rural broadband issue. Sadly, it appears to me as though no one inside the beltway has a clue about the importance of either of these and the potential they hold for the wireless industry.
Now that you have a new perspective, you might want to review some of my previous writings on public safety and rural broadband to see how your company can become involved. Next week I will be back talking about other things—that is unless the Feds or someone else does something really stupid!
Andrew M. Seybold