Spectrum Reconfiguration: Ready, Set, Go!

The effort to eliminate 800 MHz public safety radio interference has felt like a race, or, more accurately, a marathon. We've had some distinguished leaders carry the baton on this issue, with plenty of hearty support from the public safety team. But...


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The effort to eliminate 800 MHz public safety radio interference has felt like a race, or, more accurately, a marathon. We've had some distinguished leaders carry the baton on this issue, with plenty of hearty support from the public safety team. But now we need some fresh faces to bring it home. I've never known the fire community to shy away in the face of a challenge and in this case reliable 800 MHz radio communications represents the finish line, a worthy goal that's within striking distance.

We are where we are today because some leaders within the public safety community worked tirelessly across agency, jurisdictional and field lines to do what's best for those on the streets protecting our nation every day. In 1999, when it was first discovered that the interference affecting a lot of first responders' 800 MHz radios was because of the close proximity of public safety channels to those of commercial operators (like cell phones) in the 800 MHz wireless spectrum, our leaders knew that a national issue as complex as this required innovative collaboration. Fire, police and EMS worked hand-in-hand, and partnered with private companies like Nextel Communications to develop and advocate for a comprehensive solution.

In the fire community, it was former International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Government Relations Director Alan Caldwell and former IAFC President Ernie Mitchell who carried the torch during the long and sometimes tumultuous times to get it done for public safety. The fire community is fortunate in that current IAFC President Bob DiPoli shares their steadfast commitment to resolving this issue, putting us in good hands as we enter this next phase. These leaders should be commended for their vision and humility.

Implementation of the public safety-supported plan began on June 27, 2005. And now, the spirit of collaboration that Caldwell and Mitchell established needs to be continued and expanded. To proactively eliminate public safety radio interference, the 800 MHz spectrum needs to be reconfigured, or reorganized, so that the incompatible technologies of public safety and commercial operations are permanently separated. So, some public safety licensees operating in the 806-809 MHz/851-854 MHz band will have to "move" their operations to a different section of the 800 MHz band. What this involves is retuning radio equipment to operate on newly-assigned 800 MHz frequencies.

Here's the good news: not only will this eliminate a growing communications problem, but it will also create some future communications opportunities because public safety will gain additional spectrum. The good news doesn't end there: all reasonable costs incurred by public safety agencies during the implementation of this initiative will be fully covered by Nextel Communications, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), so this will have zero effect on our already-strained budgets.

The implementation process will take three years from start to finish, with four region-specific "waves" at staggered start-dates. A majority of the initial work will be focused on moving the private wireless licenses out to create "green space" for public safety to transition into, so most public safety involvement won't happen until 2006. The map above depicts the regional waves and when each area will begin the reconfiguration process, but if you want to get detailed information, visit the website of the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA), the FCC-appointed entity in charge of overseeing the reconfiguration process (http://www.800ta.org).

What This Means for You

Here are answers to some of the questions I've been hearing in the field:

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