If 4.9 is the "promised land" for public safety communications, why aren't more agencies using it? Again, referencing the PacketHop survey results:
- 36.5 percent weren't even aware that there was a 4.9 public safety spectrum;
- 29.6 percent don't think they can afford a 4.9 solution; and
- 18.2 percent believe their current narrow-band spectrum is adequate for their needs.
While these results are based on a random survey with a reasonable margin for error, they do illustrate a few points.
First, the FCC isn't in the business of promoting 4.9. As news of successful 4.9 deployments spreads, awareness should increase.
The cost to deploy a 4.9 network doesn't have to be prohibitive. In fact, cost can be quite reasonable and there are often grants available. 4.9 radio cards (for PCs) and antennas are available today from multiple vendors and more will hit the market this year, further driving down equipment prices. Because 2.4 radios are bundling into most laptops and some other mobile devices today, people don't associate a cost with using 2.4. But making the investment in 4.9 shouldn't be considered a frill as it may make the difference when a critical incident occurs.
For those that believe 2.4 or current radio systems are adequate to meet their needs, numerous field tests have shown that questions remain regarding interoperability and mission-critical communications requirements. Relying on proprietary land-mobile radios limits communications between agencies in mutual-aid situations to voice and low-speed data, and provides no support for high-bandwidth applications - if the radios interoperate at all. Before relying on existing systems or 2.4-based solutions, departments should field test them to ensure they meet performance and capability needs.
Securing a license
Obtaining a 4.9 license is relatively easy and no cost is involved in filing an application. Go to http://wireless.fcc.gov/feesforms/ and use forms 601 and Schedule I. These forms are similar to forms filed for police radio use, and getting a license typically takes less than two weeks.
Next, find a solution vendor that can assess your specific requirements and propose a system tailored to your needs, based on the community, existing communications infrastructure and budget. This vendor should also determine if a fixed or fixed/mobile solution is best. (See "Fixed and mobile networks" on Page 99.) A trial deployment can help in planning for a full-scale roll out by identifying coverage and mobility requirements. Some police forces find it useful to assign an officer to coordinate the project and evangelize its use.
It's also a good idea to contact neighboring agencies to assess their plans for 4.9 as interoperability between agencies can be a key benefit when responding to large-scale incidents.
Measuring the benefits
Beyond the benefits of improving public and officer safety, having access to visual information, and creating interoperable communications across agencies, there are quantifiable cost-saving benefits. At a recent event, the Lakewood (New Jersey) Police Department equipped its patrol cars with video cameras and streamed video across the network to headquarters, providing enhanced security and eliminating the need to send backup for routine operations. The result: thousands of dollars in tangible cost savings by reducing staffing and overtime pay.
With dedicated spectrum, broadband communications can dramatically improve the efficiency and interoperability of public safety communications.