Since the announcement of the public auction of the D-Block spectrum back in 2007, the D-Block spectrum has been eyed by those in the public safety sector to allocate spectrum for our first responders. Announced in late February, there are now plans to implement a nationwide public safety broadband network. Congress approved a bill allocating 10 MHz in the 700 MHz spectrum (known as the D-block) along with $7 billion in funding to build out an LTE-based broadband network for the public safety industry.
This does come with many issues and complications (many found from a recent GAO report) including the following:
- It may be more than 5 to 10 years before we have devices that are built for Public Safety users to run on this network and have critical voice capabilities.
- Fear of replacing LMR or land mobile radios is not expected, this will definitely be something users will use to supplement their existing communications because it will not give them all the capabilities that exist today with LMR
- Infrastructure will need to be built out to reach through buildings and underground locations, something that could take more than 5 years
- There are still concerns with a new network getting bogged down during extreme disasters, time will tell.
There are a number of interested parties getting involved with these plans including the FCC, GAO auditors, NPSTC, Public Safety Homeland Security Bureau, NTIA, APCO International, Public Safety Alliance, NAPO, wireless commercial providers, and public safety vendors. An independent board under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is set to govern the network.
For years there has been a debate about public disasters and emergencies and the problem with agencies not being able to communicate across districts, cities or regions or what is known by most as interoperability. Radios or LMR are not always on the same frequencies, and there really isn’t a communication system that is streamlined across the United States so that all emergency, public safety, and first responders can communicate effectively during major disasters or emergencies.
Where are we today? Well it will be at least a year of planning by the NTIA before construction gets underway. The NTIA has until April 20th (3 days from now) to establish the First Responder Network Authority or FirstNet, which will be a 15 member board to make policy decisions. Next, the NTIA will need to form an advisory committee. Requests for Inquiry will be going out soon as well, and plans to work closely with agents from each state need to take place before RFPs go out for development.
According to the latest NTIA webinar, it may take several months before the RFPs go out and after the RFPs go out states will have about 3 months to accept plans or opt out. States could build out their own network, but this would require them to submit plans within 6 months and they would have to match 20% of the federal funds.
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Stephanie Atkinson - Managing Partner at Compass Intelligence, High-Tech Consultant/Analyst, Mother, TX Aggie, Dallas native, TX hillcountry resident, Interests: Tech, Telecom, Mobility, M2M,and the use of Tech in business. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter.