Public Safety Officials Say Proper Use Case is Key to Public-Safety Use of 4.9 GHz
Thursday, March 31, 2022 | Comments

One of the keys to optimizing public-safety use of the 4.9 GHz band is ensuring that there are strong use cases for the band for public safety, a panel of three public-safety leaders said during a panel at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) March 24 in Las Vegas.

In 2002, the 4.9 GHz band was given to public safety, but for several years, the FCC has been looking at ways to revitalize what it has determined is an underused band. In 2021, the comission approved a new framework for the band that would allow states to lease the spectrum to non-public-safety users, but later vacated those rules after outcry from public safety. The FCC is now seeking comment on ways to increase use of the band while prioritizing public-safety use of it.

Kicking off the panel, telecommunications attorney Alan Tilles noted that it is difficult to truly say whether the band is underused or not because of the way it was licensed when it first became available.

“Every time you hear non-public-safety interests say the band is lightly used or the band is lightly used according to the FCC, you can say BS, because they don’t know,” Tilles said. “What we know in public safety is that in certain areas in the country, the band is heavily used by public safety.”

Tilles acknowledged that the spectrum is not heavily used certain areas of the country but noted that holds true for many other spectrum bands.

Dick Mirgon, an industry consultant and former police officer, argued that when it first received the spectrum, public safety wasn’t set up to succeed.

“No one else wanted it or could use it and so public safety got it,” Mirgon said. “Public-safety didn’t know what to do with it because the use case sucked, and we haven’t defined the proper use.”

Chuck Dowd, a retired assistant chief of the New York City Police Department, noted that properly defining use cases for the band will not only increase use for it but could also lead to effective sharing of the band with users such as critical infrastructure.

“As we go forward, there’s an opportunity for us to better define and build and construct a way of moving forward in the use of this spectrum on behalf of public safety,” Dowd said. “As long as public safety gets it when it wants to use it and then you want to use it for secondary use, knock yourself out.”

In addressing the FCC’s vacated framework, Mirgon said allowing states to lease the spectrum would have created a variety of issues.

“They don’t have the tools, skillsets to do it,” he said. Mirgon said that giving the spectrum to states to lease could also allow politics to control what would happen to it, such as wealthy political donor being given the lease of the spectrum.

The panel also addressed the topic of whether the 4.9 GHz spectrum should be managed by a single nationwide band manager. In the FCC’s recent proceeding on the issue, many in the industry were divided over whether a single entity should manage the spectrum. Mirgon and Dowd are both members of the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA), which has proposed that the spectrum be given to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to maintain the spectrum for public safety.

Mirgon and Dowd both reiterated support for a national band manager and noted that the FirstNet Authority already had experience managing spectrum. Dowd and Mirgon noted that there was concern that because of the authority’s contract with AT&T to build the FirstNet network that the spectrum would go to AT&T, which he said would not necessarily be the case.

“People have interpreted that as you want to give it to AT&T,” Dowd said. “We didn’t say that. If you want to give it to a pre-existing agency that’s focused on holding spectrum for public safety, that’s FirstNet. I think that’s the obvious solution for this. My point is if you don’t agree, show us a better plan. No one has yet.”

The panel also argued that there is a place in the band for critical infrastructure because of the role it plays in supporting public safety during emergencies.

Congress might not be as willing to provide spectrum to critical infrastructure, such as energy companies, because many of those providers are for-profit energy companies, Mirgon said. “They see it from the Hill as they’re making billions of dollars, they can buy their own spectrum.”

However, Mirgon and Dowd both noted the importance of having spectrum over which public safety can communicate with critical infrastructure.

“When the power and lights go out, who else are we going to work with,” Dowd said. “It’s a no brainer that we have to have the ability to communicate with them.”

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Comments
On 4/6/22, Eric Gildersleeve said:
The 4.9GHz spectrum has always been a challenge to work with limited equipment unrealistic licensing requirements and the need for local public safety agencies have not aligned. In the area which I serve the use is specifically licensed for PtP microwave links. While this is a very beneficial use of the spectrum it severely limits the use to a subset of technologies that are not practical for every possible jurisdiction that could benefit from the use of 4.9GHz.

One example we have often talked about is the use of 4.9GHz for just-in-time MESH networks. This is a band that would not need to compete with traditional 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands that are completely congested with public and business users. In fact one such use that public safety could utilize today with manufacturers making the band available in their equipment would be sUAS aka drones and other robotic equipment that currently use the 2.4 5.8 spectrum. Today we have to contend with the congested spectrum especially with on-scene response equipment as we experience every apparatus and patrol car having a hotspot.

In conclusion I applaud their efforts to build use cases for the 4.9GHz band it would greatly increase success of the program if we had a framework of allowable uses to simply limit for PtP only is not being good stewards of a precious spectrum.


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