In five days the newly appointed board of FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority, will convene for its first meeting. The group is charged with planning the buildout of a nationwide LTE public safety network and has $7 billion in federal funding, as well as 10 megahertz of D Block spectrum to add to the 10 megahertz that already comprise the Public Safety Spectrum Trust. The allocation of the D Block to a nationwide public safety network follows months of hearings and negotiations in Washington.
“The activities on Capitol Hill were amazing,” says wireless industry veteran Andrew Seybold. “It was all public safety communities — police, fire, EMS — everybody coming together and working the Hill and working with the executive branch and the FCC. It become clear that the oponents of the D Bock, the people that wanted it to go to auction, were putting details out there as far as the capacity of the network… they were using formulas that you use to calculate the total capacity of a netowrk across the city … When we got involved we came up with a rational that most incidents will happen within a single cell sector, so that the amount of capacity, the amount of data available, must be suffiient within a single cell sector. We then ran tests up in Alameda County on some actual LTE spectrum and it was a 5-by-5 network and we flooded the network with half the video that we really wanted for an incident. We had three different incidents, one was a hostage situation, one was a multiple vehicle accident and one was a fire with casualties, and we ran out of specturm very, very quickly. From that we publised a report that then we used with Congress and with the executive branch and the FCC. It said, ‘Look the only way you can calcualte capacity for LTE is on a cell sector by cell sector basis and that was one of the things, one of many things, that helped convince Congress that public safety really needed the D Block.”
Seybold does not think $7 billion is enough to build a nationwide LTE public safety network. He believes that FirstNet will need to use public/private partnerships to maintain the network, particularly in rural areas where capacity is less of an issue.
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