FCC clears the air for safety

Communications systems would work more smoothly, experts say, if public safety agencies relied on one transmission band that was not open to other products.

The Federal Communications Commission and an ad-hoc group of public safety agencies and manufacturers are working to create such a band, but a solution is not expected soon.

The FCC is in the process of freeing space in the 700 MHz band so public safety agencies will not have to face interference from other bandwidth users.

"The 700 MHz band has less traffic and therefore the potential to relieve the congestion and contention problems currently found on public safety networks," said Chuck Jackson, vice president and director of systems operations at Motorola Inc., a member of the Project 25 group that the FCC is working with on this initiative.

Project 25 was created to set standards for interoperability, primarily in public safety systems. Its membership includes agencies such as the Defense Department, local governments such as Mesa County, Ariz., and companies such as M/A-Com.

But it will not be easy. Vendors have started to tinker with compliant products, but interest has been lukewarm because about 100 TV stations currently use the 700 MHz frequency range for their High Definition Television (HDTV) transmissions.

"The 700 MHz range now is like having a new car sitting in the garage but not having the key to start it," Jackson said. "While there's a lot of interest among public service agencies, no one can use it until the HDTV issues are resolved."

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