A technological profile: Broadband over analog technology

The future of public safety communications technology has arrived at the Yurok Reservation in Northern California. Thanks to cutting-edge TV white space technology, the Yurok community will soon bring its public safety network into the 21st century. These tribal lands stretch more than 40 miles along the Klamath-Trinity River in California’s Del Norte and Humboldt counties. This rugged, densely forested terrain offers ideal proving ground for a near-line-of-sight solution like TV white space technology.

It was apparent to Jim Norton, broadband manager for the Yurok Tribe, and Paul Romero, the tribe’s IT director, that their single T1 line could not handle the day-to-day broadband needs of the reservation, let alone what would be required were a major disaster to occur on the reservation.

They began to search for a better solution. The new network would not only need to serve public safety agencies, but also to provide Internet access for businesses and residents on the reservation.

When Carlson Wireless heard about this project, the company realized the new TV white space product it was developing could be the answer. The Yurok Reservation would also provide the challenging environmental conditions needed to test and refine the product in the field.

The Yurok Connect Project

When the Yurok Connect Project was first conceived, white space technology didn’t exist. When television broadcasting migrated from analog to digital in 2009, the transition freed up spectrum, or white spaces, between channels. The unique nature of these available frequencies makes them an ideal solution for rural areas with difficult terrain.

Carlson’s TV white space radio, the RuralConnect IP, was exactly the technology that Norton and his team had been searching for.

“The RuralConnect IP is a game changer for us,” said Norton. “The line-of-sight requirements of the other technologies, as well as the antenna requirements, are significantly reduced. The frequencies have a much better terrain-following capability, and a punch for the dense foliage that we have here — one that the other technologies just can’t match.”

The advantages of using TV white space made this an easy choice for Norton and his team. On January 26, 2011, the FCC granted the Yurok Tribe an experimental license, officially allowing the project to move past the planning phase and into reality.

The FCC’s newly established Office of Native Affairs, under the leadership of Geoffrey Blackwell, was instrumental in pushing the license through.

“The FCC moved mountains for us so we could get an experimental license that allows us to use this bandwidth, or this new white space,” said Norton. With the license in hand, the Yurok Connect Project is occurring in phases, with an expected completion date of late Summer 2011.

Purposing spectrum for public safety

Thanks to a dedicated, secure T1 line, the Klamath Public Safety office is able to connect with the Department of Justice and access their criminal databases. This type of line is the only way to access this data, and this line is reserved solely for that use.

Another of the first links installed will serve the Klamath Fire Station, connecting firefighters to live video training.

“These folks are all volunteers,” said Norton. “They work during the day, and they come in the evening to get training. It works much better if they have a solid connection to the training resources.”

If a major emergency were to occur, the new network will be fully autonomous and capable of operating for days off-grid, with broadband reaching everyone on the reservation.

“Right now the plan for our new emergency services coordinator is that, in the event of a disaster, he’ll take the mobile command trailer out to one of our new towers,” Norton explained. “It’s up above anything that comes along, such as flooding from the river. Wherever they station the mobile command center, our towers will be able to see it and be able to communicate with it. They’ll have power from our generators that they can tie into if necessary.”