White Spaces to the Rescue?

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Hurricane Sandy knocked out a quarter of the cell towers in an area spreading across ten states, and the situation could get worse, federal regulators said Tuesday. Many cell towers that are still working are doing so with the help of generators and could run out of fuel before commercial power is restored, the Federal Communications Commission said.

As part of the New York City Fire Department’s radio communication recommendations after Sept. 11, 2001, a land mobile radio system was redesigned for the city of New York Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Emergency Radio Communications System.

Hanson designed 16 of the 32 sites for the Channel 16 project — implemented by Motorola — for DoITT’s critical radio communications for emergency services and first responders. The Citywide Radio Network (CRN) supports mission critical and interoperable land-mobile radio communications throughout the five boroughs. More than 25,000 radios serving 40 agencies are already carried by the network.

Land Mobile Radio is more ruggedized than cellular radio. It uses 150Mhz, 450 MHz, 700 and 800 MHz bands, among other frequencies, outputs more power and travels further (with fewer towers). Radio sites have backup generators that can run several days without power, while cellular networks, if they have backup generators at all, rarely go for more than 8 hours before they need to be resupplied with fuel.

The federal narrowbanding deadline requires new portable and mobile radios that operate using 12.5 KHz wide channels. The 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz bands are subject to the Narrowbanding mandate.

Handheld devices are available for first responders that use both the 700 and 800 MHz public service network as well as cellular service. But they are expensive. Motorola sells an interoperable LTE radios for public service users. They can use the broadband “D” block, and also utilize cellular bands. The Harris InTouch RPC-200 is another ruggedized LTE smartphone that will be able to operate on both commercial carrier networks as well as Band 14 public-safety LTE systems.

First responders and neighborhoods might have another option in the next few years — unlicensed White spaces. They can create a neighborhood network with a range of 3-5 miles.

Unlicensed White Space transmitters could be used anywhere. They check the band for interfering television stations before they transmit. White spaces use about the same power as a WiFi hotspot – but travel several miles.

Powered with solar panels and a car battery, a White Space nodes might supply direct communications to neighborhoods – and first responders – that have no other option.

Celly is a new startup that provides a private and secure way to do mobile social networking and texting. Family, friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and teammates can use social building blocks called “cells” for everyday collaboration, knowledge sharing, and group communication on any device.

It Features:

  • join by text in seconds
  • unlimited members
  • group messaging with moderation
  • multiple-choice polling
  • scheduled reminders
  • track feeds automatically
  • link networks together
  • phone numbers are kept private
  • works on any phone with text messaging (SMS), Android app, web and email

The Android App is free. You can invite members with facebook, text message, QR code or by sharing a link. Other members don’t need the app, they can participate in cells with regular text messages, email, or on the web.

A text-based chat network might be a good match for white space networks using one 6 MHz TV channel to cover an entire community. Text uses very little overhead. Whitespace networks might enable direct connection between people, even when police radios or cellular networks are down.

Large cellular networks and first responder radio networks can get blown down in a storm. It’s a fact.

Whitespace networks can enable neighborhoods to respond and communicate immediately. Saving lives and connecting people should be a top priority of the FCC. Unlicensed white space radios might come in handy for natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy that can kill both cellular and police radios.

Federal officials could use a mass message alert system that was deployed earlier this year. With the Commercial Mobile Alert System, federal emergency officials could send geographically targeted messages (separate from regular text messages) to telephones that are compatible.

It’s currently illegal to use a robotic caller to dial cell phones. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 made auto dialers illegal on cellphones (for commercial users) and requires solicitors honor the National Do Not Call Registry.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is used on AM, FM and Land Mobile Radio Service, as well as VHF, UHF, FiOS and cable television including low-power stations. Wireless Priority Service allows high-priority emergency telephone calls to avoid congestion on wireless telephone networks. It complements the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS), which allows calls to avoid congestion on landline networks.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and 400 New Jersey public safety agencies will utilize a $40 million broadband radio network to improve communications between first responders.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent board established to oversee the creation of a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) for first responders. The law provides $7 billion in federal funding to build the network, including $135 million to assist state, regional, tribal and local jurisdictions with planning activities. It’s still in the planning stage.

The Potamac Institute is generally skeptical (pdf) that the nationwide public safety broadband network will be cost/effective or nationwide. The FCC promoted “dual use” of the D-Block for commercial cellular providers. Their studies found it would deliver more service to more users at less cost.

FirstNet, the parallel LTE network dedicated only to first responders, would be paid for by auctioning off the TV frequencies. But FirstNet will likely be too expensive for rural areas and most of the communities along the West Coast where the next “big one” will strike.

FirstNet service would require thousands of new towers in low volume rural areas. Dual-band (Public safety/cellular) radios will also be more expensive. Rural users will likely opt-out, since it will be too expensive. Instead, they’ll use commercial cellular data when they need broadband. Or go without.

Unlicensed White Spaces could allow first responders (and communities) to provide inexpensive, ad-hock networks as needed. By contrast, licensed white space networks will likely be under the control of telecom monopolies, primarily driven by profit margins.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Community Wireless Summit , White Space Gets Real, Regional LTE Carriers Demand Interoperability , FCC: TV Auction in 2014 , Spectrum Bridge Partners with Carlson Wireless, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, FCC Gets Unlicensed White Spaces in Payroll Tax Bill, Mobile: The New Television, FCC Moves on TV Frequency Auction, FCC Makes TV Spectrum Sharing Official, FCC Gets White Space Autonomy, White Space Show Down, Genachowski Lobbies for Unlicensed White Spaces, Universal Service Reform Passed, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 at 12:03 pm .

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