D.C. Broadband Network Awaits Next Steps (5/12/08)
Monday, May 12, 2008 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is backing a broadband public-safety network project in Washington, although officials with the District of Columbia say several unknowns put the project’s future in doubt.

The National Capital Region (NCR) awarded a contract in early 2007 to Alcatel Lucent for an EV-DO Revision A network at 700 MHz. In September, DHS rolled out the Radio over Wireless-Broadband (ROW-B) pilot in conjunction with the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) and Clarity Communications. The project integrates new broadband technologies with existing public-safety two-way radio systems, including the integration of location information.

The pilot includes about 200 users from NCR’s police, fire and unified communications departments who are using video on the network, said Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer (CTO) for the District of Columbia. The network is licensed through a special temporary authority (STA) license that must be renewed through the FCC every six months. Federal grants initially were used to roll out the network. Alcatel Lucent has agreed to waive its maintenance fees for a year, Kundra said.

The pilot has the potential to be a model for a nationwide public-safety broadband network, but because the D block winner hasn’t been decided, future funding and other issues are up in the air, Kundra said. “It’s that cloud of uncertainty that makes long-term decisions difficult,” he said.

However, DHS officials are excited about the pilot. “There is lots of potential for those who don’t need radio all the time to tie them into the LMR network, even with listen-only rights,” said Luke Klein-Berndt, chief technology officer (CTO) for DHS’ science and technology directorate (S&T).

Klein-Berndt noted the pilot is testing a mix of technologies before they are deployed nationwide. Clarity is supplying the push-to-talk technology for the pilot, 700 MHz prototype devices from Qualcomm also are being used, and ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) from Catcher Holdings and other suppliers are being tested. The project will likely also use the newly developed bridging systems interface (BSI) specification that connects interoperability gateways from different vendors.

“The Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) has looked at this network because we’ve done a lot of the engineering to evaluate how this could be scaled nationally,” Kundra said.

Kundra added that the final technology choice of any public-safety nationwide network depends on how the 700 MHz public/private partnership plays out. “Whoever the winner [of the D block] is going to be, they would determine what the technology is going to be. The winner could come in and have a different technology,” he said.

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