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What’s the real frequency, FCC?

On September 11, the terrorists probably weren’t counting on first responder communications to fail. Could they today?

By designating additional spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency in part for first responders, the Federal Communications Commission this week took another step toward addressing the interoperability problem. In theory, the frequency will enable all emergency communications devices to be compatible.

Unfortunately, a lot needs to happen before any of this actually helps our nation’s police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians.

First, someone must buy the commercial spectrum at auction and begin build out for a new, national network that works everywhere even in rural areas. Wireless equipment manufacturers must then develop new devices that work with the new frequencies, forcing public safety officials to replace much of their existing communications equipment.

At that point, if all goes according to plan, we will have a truly interoperable public safety network.

Well, maybe.

Will the network be truly ubiquitous? No wireless network is today.

When will manufacturers roll out 700 MHz-compatible surveillance cameras, ECG machines, PDAs and other vital emergency equipment? Someone is working on this, right?

Technology aside, it will also be difficult to get cash-strapped local law enforcement and public safety agencies to pay for a new service and to replace equipment that is already saving lives especially when they have alternatives today. In fact, dozens of communities in the United States have decided not to wait.

They are deploying an interoperability solution that works with current cellular and municipal wireless networks, next generation wireless technologies and the Internet. It is based on open standards, has been proven in the field, is cost-effective, and manufactured by multiple companies (full disclosure: including my own).

This technology will also be compatible with 700 MHz when the new network becomes a reality.

Emergencies happen every day and a large-scale incident can happen at any time. First responders need interoperability today, and they are finding their own solutions in the market.

This doesn’t mean the FCC’s effort is unimportant, but it certainly won’t get us to interoperability this decade.

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