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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Interstate Highway Analog for Public Safety Wireless - Part II

The previous entry attacted some questions, so let me address them here:

Would it necessarily mean a national standard radio for public safety?

Yes. The only way to get national interoperability is to have a national standard. Now does this mean that every single radio in the country has to be in the x MHz band and use technology y? No. This is a big country and the technology that works well in a desne urban area won't cover Montana as well. The national standard should reduce the technology and bands to a minimum, I would suggest 2 as a goal.

Do you think the Major equipMent Manufacturer could come around to the idea of a national system, or would it prefer the status quo?(sic)

I doubt whether they would be happy with a single system unless it was their's. Actually I don't care who makes the chosen technology. The point is that the usual marketplace concept has badly failed in the special case of public safety communications where there are real "externalities" - economist jargon for special circumstances. Are we really that much better off than we were after the Air Florida crash? Can thousands of public safety agencies with minimal inhouse technical support ever reach consensus and then fund it? In comments to FCC in Docket 03-108, NTIA has stated,

"There are more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and over 35,000 fire and emergency medical service agencies across the United states. Due to the fragmented nature of this community, most public safety communications systems are individual systems that do not easily communicate with one another or facilitate interoperability. Federal, state, and local public sfaety communications systems operate in ten discrete bands from 30 MHz to 869 MHz and employ a number of different air-interface protocols. As a result of the fragmentation of frequency bands and air-interface standards, multiple agencies converging on a single incident often cannot communicate with each other using their radio systems."

The Bush Administration like to argue that it is more decisive than 535 members of Congress, well what about tens of thousands of public safety agencies? The Congressional Republicans used to talk about "unfunded mandates". That's really what the problem is here, we are searching for a solution that will be paid for mostly by local governments who have few resources.

Would an entirely new band be needed to build out the system?

Probably not, but that depends on the technology(gies)/band(s) chosen and whether a trnasition plan can be worked out.

What would happen to existing VHF-UHF infrastructure?

Again, that depends on the technology(gies)/band(s) chosen. But I suspect that little other than towers and backbone links can be recycled in the long run.


The Interstate Highway approach gets around that and Constitutional issues by focusing on funding "carrots" to get local government to relax their control of radio technologies for public sfaety and allow a centrally planned system to be influenced once and for all. Some fear the possible selection of the European TETRA or TETRAPOL system and let this fear drive them into keeping the status quo or modest changes thereof. I have not vested interest in TETRA technology but I can see that the decision of the UK government to adopted a single standard for public safety had great benefits. TETRA need not be part of the US solution if it invokes some primieval fear in certain people, but we need to have a solution (or a very small family of solutions) to give the public the safety they expect.

I would delegate the system design to a federal government group controlled by DHS, not FCC, with adequate support from top system engineering organizations and strong input, not control, of grass roots users. Congress would then offer to fund the final design to public safety organizations who accepted it. (Probably, like with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission Congress should have limited chance to get "cold feet" and should agree to either accept or reject the whole package.)

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