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New Network Needed to Solve First Responder Communications Crisis

Unique public-private partnership would create single platform to integrate public safety communications.
by Staff Writers
Las Vegas (SPX) May 22, 2006
Morgan O'Brien, chairman of Cyren Call Communications Corp. and a long-time champion of improved mobile communications solutions for the public safety community, recently outlined his plan to create a new nationwide broadband network to solve the first responder communications crisis.

"When first responders cannot talk to each other in emergency situations, the effects can be catastrophic," said O'Brien, a co-founder of Nextel, who spoke at the International Wireless Communications Expo here.

"The equipment and technological capabilities governments and agencies provide -- and that emergency personnel carry into storms, fires, explosions and other deadly situations -- are inferior to what families have at home. This is unconscionable."

The plan calls for a reallocation of 30 MHz in the upper 700 MHz band of spectrum, which is half of the spectrum scheduled to be auctioned in 2008 for commercial use. O'Brien said it is uniquely suited for building a next generation broadband wireless network.

Its signals can travel 30 miles, penetrate walls, and be sent and received without a direct line of sight. The network would connect all communities -- urban and rural -- in the event of an emergency, and it would have a satellite component so responders could stay in touch even if land-based systems failed. Given the spectrum's location, the nationwide network would enable future compatibility with already allocated public safety spectrum.

"This solution is practical, workable and very time sensitive," O'Brien said. "If the auction proceeds, we will have lost our last real chance to create a network that will protect our first responders and all the rest of us who depend on them during times of greatest need and duress."

The plan, which was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission April 27, calls for the FCC, with Congress' approval, to designate a public safety trust licensee and create a public-private partnership to finance the venture. The licensee would lease access to this spectrum to commercial operators who would agree to build and maintain the network. In exchange, they would have the right to use the excess capacity of the network not used by public safety.

The partnership, O'Brien said, would "produce powerful incentives for commercial operators to create a robust, competitive network that serves their own business interests while supplementing the existing flawed emergency communications system with a new platform that will serve our first responders well."

O'Brien called on those in the room to get involved and join his effort to provide first-class communications for first responders: "Let's all get mad as hell and let's agree that we're not going to take this anymore! It's time for all of us to feel a sense of compelling rage that we have let this situation go on for so long."

"Business as usual is no longer acceptable," O'Brien continued. "It's time to show creativity and commitment to solve this problem."

Stressing the revolutionary nature of the proposal, O'Brien outlined 10 reasons why the proposed network is a groundbreaking improvement over the status quo. These include enabling all levels of government to share communications through one national network, offering multiple services on the same system, consolidating technology standards so emergency personnel can converse no matter where they are located and regardless of their jurisdiction, and introducing high-speed broadband to many rural areas.

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