|War Over U.S. Public Safety|
|Written by Dave Burstein|
|Thursday, 10 June 2010 08:22|
Takeaway: D.C. insiders tell me Verizon is willing to sabotage the public safety network to prevent D block spectrum being auctioned. Julius fears V+T will become even more dominant so might put Harbinger-like "no V+T" on the D Block. Ugly move, and disastrous for the broadband plan, which hopes competition enabled by more spectrum will bring down prices.
People died on 9/11 because they couldn't get information over the radio and the cops and firemen couldn't talk to each other. It's a scandal the problem still hasn't been solved. Carlos Kirchner and Stagg Newman focused the Broadband Plan on this and the plan proposed a single national network. See Emergency network to save thousands of lives.
Also copied below.
To bring down the cost, public safety would piggyback on one of the LTE networks being built by Verizon or AT&T and use public safety radios that are compatible with the LTE networks. This would reduce costs by 50-80% by most accounts and would be particularly important in the gravest of emergencies.
The radios could work over the regular LTE networks when needed, and the plan included a provision that public safety could use as much bandwidth as they needed on request. That probably never will be needed. The existing public safety spectrum can carry all the voice likely needed and plenty of video as well.
The current "public safety" operators, led by the cops in New York, hit the roof. They insisted on maintaining control of the network and spectrum. It felt like a turf war, especially when the "public safety" folks started circulating claims about what their plan could do. Two engineers I respect have looked closely at the claims and don't believe them. One said the throughput claimed would require building twice as many towers as they propose at a correspondingly higher cost.
Cecilia Kang (WP, http://bit.ly/aMbokw ) broke the story that Verizon, AT&T, and Motorola are funding the campaign to block or delay the network. She noted V&T expect local deals with public safety that will get them the spectrum, often with lucrative turnkey contracts to run the network. She reports Motorola has 80% of the market, often charging $5,000 for each radio. My research suggests the U.S. radios are very similar to the "tetra" radios sold to public safety around the world for $500-800, one of the reasons the costs in the U.S. are so high.
One constructive step the FCC can and should take to to insist the standard for LTE chips include the ability to cover the public safety frequencies. That will add little or nothing to the chip costs, but might not happen otherwise because the "public safety" market is small and often ignored.
I'm not sure it should be funded by a “broadband tax.” Bringing down the price of broadband is the only proven method to increase adoption. Julius often cites "affordable broadband" as the key goal. Something is profoundly wrong if the net effect of the broadband plan is prices going up.
It's also a mistake to automatically extend the contract for this or any other any spectrum auctioned beyond ten years. The renewal process is generally a rubber stamp and the law doesn't require it. Adelstein's “Use it or lose it” renewal policy would solve nearly all the broadband coverage problems in a few years without government money, and should have been central to the plan.
Emergency network to save thousands of lives
Tuesday, 23 March 2010 21:50
Carlos Kirjner and team will almost certainly save thousands of lives with the nationwide public safety network that's part of the broadband plan. Carlos led the investigation of the communications breakdown in the final minutes of the World Trade Center and listened to the calls Many of the 300 firemen who died might have been saved if they heard the evacuation order.
The international takeaway, as emphasized by Jamie Barnett, is that there's a remarkable opportunity to save money by coordinating the government network with the LTE networks being built commercially. Piggybacking on LTE buildouts starting right now produces cost estimates much lower than those I've seen before for government networks. LTE is going to 41,000 cell sites - 95+% of the U.S. population - over the next few years. Adding the radios for the public safety network will cost $95,000 per plus another $35,000 each for hardening including batteries that should last at least twice as long. 99% coverage is reached by upgrading or adding another 3,200 cell sites with enough power to communicate with antennae on emergency vehicles, which can relay to nearby cell phones as well.
When needed, public safety will be able to almost instantly take over not just dedicated airwaves but also the commercial LTE bands, tripling or quadrupling the emergency bandwidth. Small trucks with mobile masts ready to deploy in minutes will be pre-positioned nationwide - SUV mounted COWS. Satellite will be systematically supported for the last fraction of a percent.
Every commercial building will be expected to have indoor coverage through repeaters or femtocells. Handheld units will normally be larger than cellphones with big batteries and rubber ducky antennae, but use many of the same components to keep the cost reasonable. The initial plan is to add a fee up to $1 to every broadband connection to pay for this, although it could also be collected from the wireless carriers' spectrum fees.
It's a remarkable achievement, but some public safety officials want even more. Charles Dowd, deputy chief of the New York City Police Department, strongly opposes letting private companies run the network.
"Commercial networks simply aren't built to the standards we need," he tells Kim Hart in The Hill. I asked my brother Danny for perspective. He drove ambulances out of Harlem Hospital for a decade before injuring his shoulder and becoming a network administrator. Danny tells me "The A Number One issue is back up power. Public safety demands are a lot higher than the four hour battery pack in your FIOS box." The NBP addressed that directly, by including $35,000/cell site for "hardening," starting with longer lasting batteries. Dowd led a New York City report that chose a very similar technology to the broadband plan but not private control. Verizon is firing 20,000 more people, so it's a legitimate question whether the telcos still have the emergency capabilities they had a decade ago. On the other hand, Bell leaders like Dick Lynch and Bill Smith remain among the most experienced disaster engineers in the world. I've sent a note over to Dowd for details on the issues and will follow up.
The technical design of the system seems right on target and worth emulating. The question of the operator - public or private - is more complicated. There are also questions of "who pays."; The public safety people believe their longterm saving from using their own spectrum will be far greater than whatever the government collects now in payments. That may well be true, although it's due to problems in the auction process that should be corrected.
It's important to distinguish between real issues with the plan and the turf protection of some of the stakeholders. In particular, traditional public safety equipment provider Motorola is lobbying furiously to minimize change. They've been charging so much for "specialized" equipment, the savings in the new plan will allow much more coverage.
Dowd's New York City Report http://bit.ly/cZNd4I