APCO Report Makes Recommendations to Spur Greater Use of 4.9 GHz Band

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International submitted a report to the FCC on September 28, 2015, that recommends ways to spur public safety usage of the 4.9 gigahertz band, including instituting frequency coordination. The 16-page report, which was submitted in WP docket 07-100, PS docket 06-229, and WT docket 06-150, was prepared by a task force that APCO convened in June to assess how the 4.9 GHz band is being used and how public safety use and investment can be increased.

The circulation to FCC Commissioners of a further notice of proposed rulemaking in the agency’s 4.9 GHz band proceeding is expected before the end of the year, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Deputy Chief David Furth told the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) earlier this month (TRDaily, Sept. 15). Mr. Furth said that the further notice would seek comment on specific band plan proposals, including one submitted by NPSTC in 2013 (TRDaily, Oct. 24, 2013).

In 2012, FCC Commissioners, saying they were disappointed that the public safety community hadn’t used the 4.9 GHz band more intensively, adopted an item seeking views on proposals to spur higher utilization of the spectrum, including by opening the band up to wireless carriers on a secondary basis and critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities such as utilities on a primary basis (TRDaily, June 13, 2012).

The report submitted by APCO today said that “there are a number of local and state government agencies that utilize the 4.9 GHz band in support for their operations. These deployments vary in size and architecture, and offer a variety of tools such as video monitoring, mesh networking, local area networks, and local hotspots. While the potential for multiple uses remains strong, it is also important to note that at present over 90% of the utilization is for point-to-point applications.”

The report said that while some agencies are “making good use of 4.9 GHz  capabilities … acceptance and deployment has been slower than anticipated and still remains behind projected, and optimal, numbers.”

The report noted that the NPSTC report to the FCC indicated “that there is some confusion over the circumstances when a license is needed. The varied uses and regulatory schemes all point to the need to bring more structure to the band.

“In addition, according to both vendor and public safety sources contacted by the Task Force, there are serious concerns about licensing, and specifically around coordination, and also issues with the high cost of purchasing, and deploying limited equipment options,” the report added. “These concerns, along with the growing potential of 4.9 GHz systems to complement Next Generation 9-1-1 and FirstNet deployments, are the driving factors in how to increase public safety use of this band, decrease barriers to public safety entry into this space, and increase investment in these life saving technologies.”

The report echoed the recommendation of the NPSTC report on the need for frequency coordination in the band, saying that task force survey results “indicate that many public safety users and manufacturers choose not to invest in the 4.9 GHz band because it is not coordinated. The current jurisdictional licensing model is viewed within the public safety community as too similar to an unlicensed structure to provide the degree of confidence needed for mission critical communications, including sensitive transmissions.

 “The Task Force found that new frequency coordination procedures designed to improve usage, performance, and interference protection would encourage public safety entities that have been reluctant in the past to begin utilizing the 4.9 GHz Band. It follows that increased interest in the public safety community would provide incentives for equipment vendors to direct investment into this market,” the report added.

“The Task Force supports the proposed NPSTC approach that would require all applications to go through the frequency coordination process. Further, this should remain limited to public safety coordinators as this band is specific, and critical, to public safety,” the report said.

“Another issue that inhibits wider use of the 4.9 GHz band is blanket geographical licensing for fixed and mobile operations on any channel across the band. Vendors described situations in the field where they have been given a frequency following the local regional plan only to find users already operating on that frequency when there should not be anybody there. This can be avoided by implementing a more comprehensive frequency coordination process,” the report said. “The NPSTC plan proposes, and the Task Force supports, that all fixed locations be identified and licensed for a specific channel or channels with aggregation to no more than two channels (10 MHz of bandwidth per channel).”

The report also endorsed permitting the spectrum to be used for airborne and robotics use, and it stressed the importance of public safety equipment being affordable. “Ideally, public safety 4.9 GHz equipment can be developed in such a way that it leverages the much broader consumer marketplace for WiFi and related products and services supporting broadband communications, including 4G (LTE),” the report said.

The task force also expressed support for allowing larger antennas, especially in rural areas, and a 40-megahertz channel, which it said could further spur equipment availability.

“While the 4.9 GHz band might well enhance the delivery of services delivered by CII in support of public safety, this band is intended primarily for public safety users and care must be taken to ensure that any use by CII of this band not prohibit or in any way inhibit public safety users,” the report warned. “Additionally, as previously recommended, application for use of this spectrum by CII entities should be subject to the same frequency coordination and licensing requirements as any other user in the space and coordinated by public safety coordinators.”

But the task force also recommended “a consideration of further efforts focused on how to build upon the ‘white space’ model and apply it to the 4.9 GHz arena to spur development by increasing the potential customer base, including within the CII segment. At the same time, it is extremely important that the Commission allow for priority use by public safety any time the spectrum is needed. Whether this be by development of software to determine priority and pre-emption, by a new coordination process in conjunction with development efforts by the vendor community, or by some other innovative approach, the opportunity exists to begin development of a ‘path to deployment.’” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily