First responders in the San Francisco Bay Area may use a dedicated LTE network beginning next year, after a regional authority approved a 10-year deal for Motorola Solutions, funded primarily with a federal stimulus grant.
The dedicated 700 MHz public service LTE network will enable first responders to use broadband applications on a private LTE designed to meet public-safety requirements. Current plans call for BayWEB to have between 144 and 150 sites. The BayRICS Vision is the ability for any public safety radio in the region to communicate with any other public safety radio regardless of location.
The overall cost to San Mateo County could be a monthly cost of $157 per user to more than $200 per user, according to Chris Flatmoe, San Mateo County’s representative. That is a steep cost for a private network, particularly as California government entities are struggling to make budget works during difficult economic times, he said. Initially, the goal is to have at least 6,000 subscribers to BayWEB.
The network was funded with $6 million from a FEMA Urban Areas Security Initiative grant, and other federal grants. Motorola applied for $50 million in federal broadband funds (pdf) to build and operate the Bay Area Wireless Enhanced Broadband network (pdf). The cost of the demonstation project was $72,483,637, says Motorola pdf.
The other half of the 700 MHz Public Safety band is currently reserved for narrow band voice communications. It’s interoperable (using Project 25 radios), so different agencies can talk to each other. The Federal Government has planned a nationwide narrowband voice network (IWN) on that section of the public service 700 MHz band. In addition, Public Service agencies are very likely to get another 10 MHz of “D Block” spectrum for their own dedicated broadband LTE communications.
Motorola’s system will support a host of public-safety applications such as Motorola’s PremierOne for managing public safety applications, real-time video streaming, tactical collaboration, dynamic mapping and routing, and in-field reporting as well as push to talk (PTT) and voice telephony.
The Motorola and Verizon Wireless alliance is said to enable first responders to connect to their services on both the Motorola LTE network and Verizon Wireless’ nationwide 3G/4G network. Motorola’s roaming arrangement with Verizon lets public-safety users use Verizon’s broadband wireless network when their private public-safety LTE network is unavailable.
Motorola’s partnerships with Ericsson and Verizon Wireless provide their foundation for LTE public-safety communications by combining a complete suite of LTE services that span planning, integration, support and hosting.
A new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General (pdf) finds DOJ has spent $350 million on developing an integrated wireless network that has “yet to achieve the results intended,” and that after 10 years of trying “its success is doubtful,” reports ABC News.
This assessment comes a decade after the 9-11 tragedy highlighted a lack of coordination and effective communication between law enforcement and first responders, and spurred a commitment to fix the problem. But according to the DOJ audit, serious communications problems still plague the FBI, DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies. The audit found that the Justice Department’s law enforcement components are still using old and obsolete equipment.
In a letter to the Inspector General’s office, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus responded:
“The original… objective was a nationwide interoperable broadband voice and data network servicing the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security with an estimated total cost of $5 billion. However. as the report acknowledges, changing circumstances have required the Department to significantly change the scope and deployment approaches for the IWN program. What has not changed is the Department’s commitment to implementing a reliable, secure, interoperable Land Mobile Radio system for its tactical wireless communications. Despite the challenges to the project noted in the Report, the Department has achieved significant improvements in the wireless communications capabilities delivered to our law enforcement agents.”
Voice Over LTE could make the 700-MHz nationwide IWN network obsolete.
Consultant Andrew Seybold thinks replacing the Narrowband channels with Voice Over LTE is not realistic. He thinks narrowband voice for public safety will be around for a decade or more.
IWN has been repeatedly scaled back. Funding was cut in fiscal 2010 and then again in fiscal 2011, and has been suspended altogether for fiscal 2012. Further, the Department of Homeland Security is no longer participating in the effort, cutting the total number of projected users to about 30,000, and, according to the inspector general report, future participation of the Department of the Treasury appears unlikely.
The President’s 2012 budget recommended suspension of the IWN program, citing new alternatives like 3G and 4G wireless networks as well as the development of a National Public Safety Broadband Plan.
Many public safety officials doubt the viability of sharing with 3G and 4G wireless networks, citing possible downtime during natural disasters. Public safety claims their on-site generators provide power to radio towers over a longer period of time and are more secure.
Commercial providers, of course, are everywhere. They know how to manage a complex network with tens of thousands of radio towers. First responders have Priority Access to virtually all cellular channels in times of emergency, using Wireless Priority Service.
Skeptics might wonder if the same lawmakers who lobbied for incorporating the “D-Block” in a dedicated, nationwide LTE network, will be the first to cut funding when the cost overruns and jurisdictional disputes eventually surface.
Using the “D-Block”, commercial providers could have enabled public/private sharing — and rural broadband access. For everyone.
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