A 12-year effort to ensure cell phones and public safety radio bands can transmit clearly in the same space is wrapping up for Washington state, a job made especially difficult by international border issues, rapidly changing technologies and multiple jurisdictions across government.
At the center of it all was Michael Marusich with the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer, who coordinated efforts between wireless phone companies, police, fire, search and rescue and other entities of the federal government and state agencies that rely on radios for emergency communication in the field.
Marusich says the problem was this: Cell phones and public safety radio channels share the 800 MHz radio frequencies. While sharing wasn’t a problem a quarter century ago, as wireless use became widespread there were suddenly instances where lives and property were being threatened as cell phone conversations began crowding out emergency communications. Even though cell phone towers are usually placed at lower elevations and emergency radio towers usually located on hills and mountaintops, separating the signals became an issue due to the growing bombardment of cellular use.