Public Safety Broadband: Real-World Testing Results

This past spring we were contracted by San Francisco Bay Area UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative) to conduct real-world testing of the first Public Safety broadband network in the Bay Area. This network, known as the Cornerstone project, is the precursor to the East Bay Regional LTE network currently being deployed.

The East Bay Region is one of 21 jurisdictions that received waivers from the FCC to operate a broadband network on the 10 MHz of 700-MHz spectrum already allocated to Public Safety. The license is currently held by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and the waiver recipients not only have a waiver from the FCC to build and operate their portion of the nationwide network, they have all entered into lease agreements with the PSST for use of the spectrum.

The San Francisco Bay Region came together and formed a joint powers authority, the BayRICS Authority, to develop and operate the broadband network. The BayRICS Authority is currently negotiating an agreement with Motorola to provide the system. Motorola received a $50 million grant from the broadband stimulus funds (BTOP grant) to build out the network. A previous grant funded Project Cornerstone as a proof of concept for the larger LTE network planned for the Bay Region, and this was the network we tested. The report goes into detail about the network, test procedures, actual tests, and results. We have also included more details on all phases of the testing in seven appendices.

The tests were based on real-world incidents that are typical in both metro and suburban areas on a daily basis. The number of first responder personnel assigned to each incident and their functions at the incident and in the command center have been vetted by many within the Public Safety community and, in reality, the number of first responders assigned to the incident for our tests represents a conservative set of personnel on the scene.

It should also be pointed out that these tests were made under ideal conditions. There was no other network traffic, each test was conducted at the center of a single cell sector, multiple times, and the mobile devices were mounted in vehicles using roof and trunk-mounted outside antennas. The backhaul between the cell sector and the network was 30 Mbps and cannot be considered as a choke point in the network. Further, the testing server was physically located at the network center or core so there were no additional data links that could have skewed the results.

A paragraph taken from the conclusions section of the report sums up our findings:

“Based on these real-world tests, we strongly recommend that public safety be provided with at least 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum (10 MHz by 10 MHz). The only way to accomplish this is to reallocate the 700-MHz D Block to public safety and this should be done prior to the build-out of the waiver recipients’ portion of the nationwide network. The cost to build out 10 MHz of spectrum and 20 MHz of spectrum is identical at the time of construction. Later, the addition of this spectrum would add to the cost of the network and require device redesign, adding to the cost of the user equipment. The entire premise of providing public safety with broadband spectrum using a commercial technology is to provide public safety personnel with capabilities they do not have presently at a lower cost than its existing voice communications equipment.”

The full report, as it was submitted to the FCC, is attached to this column in PDF format and will also be posted on our website for future reference. We believe our testing methodology is solid and that the tests, which were repeated multiple times for each incident, were conclusive. In addition to our own findings, Anritsu America was taking off-the-air measurements with its test equipment to verify the total traffic being sent over the network. We thank Anritsu for its support and assistance. I would also like to thank Motorola, the provider of the network, for its cooperation in working with us on this project. Finally, a big thanks to Panasonic, which provided us with seven identical Toughbooks running Windows XP. These units are identical to thousands of Toughbooks that are installed in police, fire, and EMS vehicles around the United States.

The bottom line: Public Safety needs the D Block and the funding to build out the nationwide Public Safety network. If the D Block is not reallocated, Public Safety will end up with a network that will not provide the types of information and videos it wants and needs on a daily basis for incidents that occur multiple times a day in both major metro areas and their surrounding suburbs. Senate bill S.911 provides both the spectrum and the funding that is needed by the Public Safety community. This bill passed through committee with a strong 21-4 bipartisan vote and it needs to be introduced on the floor of the Senate as soon as possible. This will put pressure on the House of Representatives to pass a similar bill and send it to the President for his signature.

Ten years after 9/11, there is no excuse for not providing the Public Safety community with the tools it needs to better serve all of us. This becomes even more important when the Public Safety community has seen layoffs at a local level because of a lack of funding. Doing more with less takes the right tools, and in this case the right tool is a robust Public Safety-only broadband network that has 20 MHz of spectrum available.

Andrew M. Seybold



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