Spectrum Sharing Proposed for Public-Safety Broadband Network
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | Comments

By Kristen Beckman, Assistant Editor

Early indications during the initial planning stages of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) are that the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) is expected to rely on partnerships with commercial terrestrial operators.

A partnership between public-safety agencies and commercial carriers would provide efficiencies in terms of shared infrastructure and equipment, as well as relieving some of the cost burden associated with building out and maintaining the network. However, some industry officials have concerns with public/private partnerships.

At a FirstNet oversight hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology March 14, Declan Ganley, chairman and CEO of Rivada Networks International, outlined an approach that would retain control of the public-safety network with local agencies while generating revenue for the buildout, maintenance and operation of the network, he said.

The approach relies on a public/private partnership that would give public-safety agencies immediate access to all of the spectrum they need at any given time while allocating excess spectrum on a dynamic basis to paying third-party customers.

“It is widely acknowledged that public-safety agencies will need access to their full 20 megahertz of spectrum to ensure they have the necessary and sufficient bandwidth for the capabilities they need for comprehensive emergency response situations,” said Ganley. “However, thankfully, emergencies on this scale do not happen every day, week or month, and therefore, not all of this 20 megahertz will be needed all of the time — the requirement is simply that bandwidth on this scale can be accessed immediately should the need arise. Much like an F-15, it is not needed every day — but when it is needed, it is really needed, and thus must always be available.”

Rivada’s approach is called Dynamic Spectrum Arbitrage Tiered-Priority-Access (DSATPA), which allows public-safety radio assets to be allocated as a short-term lease to secondary users dynamically. Secondary users would be charged a fee for the use of underused radio resources.

The method is a policy-driven resource allocation scheme that can allow dynamic bidding for radio resources, a centralized arbitrage process, local control of resources and a backoff process that ensures public safety always has immediate access to the leased radio resources when needed, said Ganley.

“Civilian commercial communications networks are built for peacetime and periods of calm. They are designed to handle a steady volume of commercial civilian traffic, and rely heavily on the ready availability of electricity, a lack of network congestion, and conditions of general normality that frankly do not exist in those moments when public-safety agencies are called into action en masse,” said Ganley. “Although there is an essential role to be played by civilian commercial carriers and networks in interacting with the public-safety network, it would be unwise to become overly reliant on them.

“Reliance on commercial carriers for this kind of emergency situation is not a valid option for public safety, as it simply is not designed to provide, and is not capable of providing, for the unique requirements of modern public safety,” said Ganley. “A much more desirable solution is the provision of a network dedicated to public safety, guaranteeing priority access to public safety when it is needed most.”

Ganley said that states that build their own networks can, in collaboration with FirstNet, allow commercial services on the network through a public/private partnership. He said legislation requires revenues generated by the network to be used for the construction, maintenance, operation or improvement of the network.

Sam Ginn, chairman of FirstNet, acknowledged that Rivada’s proposal is one of a few options for the NPSBN.

“This is one method,” said Ginn. “But this spectrum is going to be arbitraged one way or another. And the question is do you follow that process, or do you follow another process that we negotiate with the carriers for the arbitrage or the use of the secondary spectrum?”

Dynamic sharing of spectrum is not a new concept. Spectrum has been brokered in the commercial wireless industry for years, and the federal government has taken note.

In July 2012, President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report suggesting federal spectrum sharing is the most cost-effective way to meet the needs for additional mobile services spectrum. The report, “Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth,” said clearing and reallocating federal spectrum isn’t a feasible option.

The report calls for a new spectrum architecture and a corresponding shift in the future architecture of radio systems to multiply the capacity of spectrum by a factor of 1,000. Sharing and managing the spectrum so it isn’t fragmented are the best strategies, the report said.

The report followed a June 2010 presidential directive for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to collaborate with the FCC to find 500 megahertz of spectrum held by federal and nonfederal users that could be repurposed for wireless broadband Internet service within 10 years. The amount is about double the spectrum currently available and would include sharing of spectrum between federal and nonfederal users.

Carlson Wireless has been capitalizing on the idea of spectrum sharing for several years. The company developed its RuralConnect products to harness the non-line of sight (NLOS) capabilities of TV white space frequency bands that are underused or vacant in non-urban areas, and deliver speeds comparable with traditional wireless networks in remote areas. The products are available under an FCC-approved experimental license.

“Through the use of dynamic spectrum sharing, this new spectrum superhighway is able to increase the capacity 1000s of times,” said Jim Carlson, president and CEO of Carlson Wireless. “Dynamic spectrum sharing is now being tested using vacant TV channels as the first spectrum to be shared with the incumbent broadcasters.  Later this year, the 3.55-3.65 GHz spectrum is planned to be shared on a pilot program with small cell implementations. PCAST has identified 1,000 megahertz of federal spectrum which it has recommended to be shared with the private sector.”

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