Last week, the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) issued a press release thanking the FCC Commissioners for their positive vote on the PSSA’s December 30, 2022 stay request. The Commission is currently made up of four Commissioners: Two Democrat Commissioners, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, and two Republican Commissioners, Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington. Chairwoman Rosenworcel and Commissioners Starks and Simington voted for the stay while Commissioner Carr maintained his original no vote but did indicate he was receptive to working with public safety on how to best use this spectrum.
Last year’s five-member FCC Commission voted three to two in favor of reallocating the 4.9-GHz spectrum, taking it from the public-safety community and awarding it to each state. That ruling would have permitted each state to execute a master lease with an organization that would then determine how the spectrum would be used in that state. There was some wording in the order that might have protected existing public-safety 4.9-GHz users, but it was unclear whether this would actually shelter them.
The PSSA, which includes many members of the original Public Safety Alliance (PSA), and members of the former Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), were among those who worked to convince Congress to authorize a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), which resulted in FirstNet.
The 4.9-GHz spectrum was originally allocated to the public-safety community under FCC part 90 rules for use as a Wi-Fi-type band with the idea that it would provide incident-based communications including data services. Unfortunately, it took almost two more years for equipment to become available for this band. The FCC did not follow convention when licensing 4.9 GHz. Traditionally, the FCC would have called for applying for licenses for base stations and mobile units at specific locations or within specific jurisdictions. Rather, the FCC licensed 4.9-GHz for a given area of operation. Later, the FCC modified this to require point-to-point and point-to-multipoint 4.9-GHz links to be licensed on an individual basis, requiring inclusion of longitude, latitude, height above average terrain, and other pertinent data.
When equipment finally became available, vendors were required to sell 4.9-GHz equipment only to public-safety agencies that provided a copy of a valid FCC license with their order for the equipment. A number of public-safety agencies used or experimented with 4.9-GHz incident systems but, for the most part, they found the equipment did not provide the expected services.
Since then, most of the license holders have moved from incident coordination use to being used for fixed point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links, control of Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems, and backhaul for video cameras. Later, the FCC began investigating 4.9-GHz spectrum usage and concluded that based on the number of licenses on file, the spectrum was underutilized by the public-safety community. For a number of years leading up to the final ruling in 2020, the FCC issued several notices of proposed rulemaking and a number of organizations filed comments.
What Lies Ahead for 4.9 GHz
The public-safety community has an opportunity to work with the FCC and others to help shape how this portion of spectrum will be used. With changes in broadband technology, the PSSA and many in the public-safety community believe making a significant portion of that spectrum available for nationwide deployment of 5G broadband technologies, perhaps along with some in-building 5G or Wi-Fi 6 allocations, will provide the additional broadband spectrum that is urgently needed by the public-safety community.
FirstNet has proven how valuable it is for nationwide broadband spectrum to be available for public-safety use. The addition of the 4.9-GHz spectrum, especially if configured for 5G broadband, will result in enhanced public-safety access to nationwide broadband spectrum.
The PSSA stands ready to work with those within the FCC, public-safety organizations, and the vendor community to develop a roadmap for 4.9-GHz spectrum that will meet the needs of the public-safety community and perhaps organizations considered to be critical-communications providers.
A request for a stay had been filed earlier in response to the previous FCC’s ruling to assign this spectrum to the states. In a recent action, the current Commission has approved the stay request from the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA). As a result, the public-safety community has an opportunity to work with the Commission and return this spectrum for its intended use: to serve the public-safety community.
State of Florida
In what appears to be the first of its kind action by a state legislator and governor, the State of Florida’s newly-approved budget includes a new contract for L3Harris to replace the existing L3Harris statewide network with a new P25 network, and L3Harris must include interoperability with FirstNet.
That FirstNet was mentioned in the legislation is a first and it indicates that the state recognizes FirstNet as the nationwide provider of public-safety broadband. This is a major win for public safety and, hopefully, we will see more LMR contracts that require interoperability between LMR and FirstNet.
Motorola’s extension to its UK contract to provide the UK Tetra network is a further indication that the UK public-safety broadband network, which was to have been in full operation a few years ago, is still not ready for prime time.
The FirstNet Authority contract with AT&T is for a period of 25 years. The first five years were dedicated to network build-out and providing devices and applications on the network. According to news sources, AT&T will complete its build-out requirements before the end of the first five years. While this first build-out period will be completed, that does not mean work will stop on the network. AT&T is already moving toward enabling access for FirstNet users on its 5G networks, and adding capabilities to provide in-building and rural coverage for first responders.
Until next week…
Andrew M. Seybold
©2021, Andrew Seybold, Inc.