The rush is on for public safety RF spectrum

The rush is on for public safety RF spectrum

A national push to secure additional radio spectrum for public safety agencies kicked off today in Washington with the demonstration of a pilot wireless network in the nation's capital.

Recorded and live video was broadcast over broadband wireless links to a Capitol Hill audience that included legislators, their staffs and reporters.

The network is operating under an 18-month experimental license from the Federal Communications Commission that will expire in September 2005.

'We simply don't have enough spectrum to make this kind of network available on a nationwide basis,' said Washington chief technology officer Suzanne Peck.

Washington is a founding member of the Spectrum Coalition for Public Safety, an advocacy group working to ensure that radio spectrum is allocated for new public safety applications.

'To build the network, we need spectrum,' said Lt. Charles Smith of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, representing the coalition. 'The tools already exist.'

The $2.7 million Washington pilot network is the first of its kind and will provide police, fire and rescue personnel with broadband connections in the field.

Contracts were awarded in December to Motorola Inc. as the systems integrator and to Flarion Technologies Inc. of Bedminster, N.J., for equipment.

Flarion is providing mobile air interface technology called Fast Low-latency Access with Seamless Handoff-Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (FLASH-OFDM). The RadioRouter is a packet-switched base station that will route signals to the city's OC-48 DC-Net network. FLASH-OFDM wireless network cards are available for notebook computers and handheld devices, and chip sets for cellular phones are expected by next year.

Ten base stations have been installed to provide citywide coverage. Maximum download speed is 1.5 Mbps, but average user experience is about 1 Mbps. Uplink speed is 300 Kbps to 500 Kbps, with bursts up to 900 Kbps possible.

District deputy CTO Robert LeGrande said an additional 15 to 20 stations would provide network coverage inside buildings. The first six months of the program will be devoted to testing usability, maintenance and security before rolling it out to users, LeGrande said.

The Spectrum Coalition wants to snare enough radio bandwidth to use the technology.

A chunk of bandwidth in the 700-MHz band now used by television broadcasters is scheduled to come on the market soon as the industry moves to a digital broadcast standard. FCC plans to license much of that spectrum to commercial users. A 10-MHz swath in the middle of the band has been set aside for public safety use, but the coalition is lobbying for an additional 10 MHz.

The district's experimental license uses a channel now licensed to a Frederick, Md., television station whose signal does not reach the D.C. area.

Spectrum Coalition members praised a bill introduced in the Senate that would set aside 24 MHz of bandwidth in the 700 MHz band for public safety. But that bandwidth is configured to support lower-speed applications, LeGrande said, and the coalition is asking for an additional 10 MHz to support high-speed applications such as those demonstrated Thursday.

'Technology is passing us by,' Lt. Dave Mulholland of the U.S. Park Police told legislators. 'Please allocate 10 MHz of spectrum for public safety.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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