May 9, 2008
Due to piecemeal deployment of proprietary land mobile radio systems, public safety wireless networks in the United States have been plagued by interoperability problems. Spectrum in the United States’ 700 MHz band available nationwide in February 2009 offers a unique opportunity to fix these interoperability problems and provide first responders with video and other multi-media data applications needed for effective response. We review current trends in commercial and public safety wireless technologies and explain how and why open-standard, IP-based commercial wireless technologies will be used to support public safety communications in the future. We describe how mission-critical public safety requirements can be met in ways which allow public safety to take advantage of the economies of scale and technological innovation inherent in commercial wireless technologies, and how seamless voice interoperability with land mobile radio systems can be achieved. The Federal Communications Commission’s recent 700 MHz auction garnered a record $19 billion for the US treasury, but failed to award a license for construction of a public-private public safety broadband network. As a result, a nationwide public safety broadband network in the US is still a work in progress. We describe events and ideas that have lead to a paradigm shift in the way public safety wireless communications will be supported in the US in the future, stumbling blocks that have been encountered (and overcome), and what the future may hold for public safety communications in the United States.
Dr. Kenneth C. Budka is Director of the Network Performance and Reliability Department in Alcatel-Lucent’s Chief Technology Office. Dr. Budka joined AT&T’s Bell Labs in 1991, working in the areas of wireless voice and data communications systems, control algorithms for real-time systems, and performance analysis and optimization of communications networks and equipment. Most recently, he led a successful R&D effort to create public safety wireless solutions based on commercial wireless technologies. This work led to Alcatel-Lucent’s deployment of the US’s first public safety 700 MHz broadband wireless network in Washington, DC. Dr. Budka received the B.S.E.E. degree summa cum laude from Union College, Schenectady, New York and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Engineering Science from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE, the holder of several patents.