4G public safety network to undergo first tests

Demonstration to begin evaluations of cutting-edge LTE communications technology

Partners from the telecom industry are being signed up to participate in a demonstration network being established by the Commerce Department to test next-generation communications technology for a nationwide public safety network.

The first vendor, Alcatel-Lucent, signed on in September to provide Long Term Evolution equipment for wireless testing in a controlled environment under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. Other companies are in talks with the Public Safety Communications Research program, said Dereck Orr, PSCR program manager for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“We want to have multiple manufacturers because the nationwide network is likely to include equipment from multiple vendors,” Orr said.

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The demo network will fill a need for facilities to test and demonstrate behaviors of emerging LTE technologies on the yet-to-be-deployed 700 MHz network. LTE has been identified as the technology that will be used on the proposed network and the lab will provide a neutral site for vendors to work out interoperability issues in a multiple-vendor environment and a learning environment for public safety officials who will be using the equipment.

PSCR is a partnership between NIST’s Law Enforcement Standards Office and the Institute for Telecommunications Sciences of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Both agencies are within the Commerce Department.

Two swaths of the 700 MHz band have been set aside for a public safety broadband network that would enable nationwide interoperability and roaming with advanced capabilities. The Public Safety Spectrum Trust holds the nationwide license for this spectrum, which was freed up by last year’s switch to digital television broadcasting.

Rules for deployment of the network are awaiting decisions on the disposition of two adjacent swaths of spectrum, originally intended to be auctioned off for commercial development. Although it is generally felt that the additional spectrum should be available for public safety use, there is disagreement as to whether it should be committed exclusively to public safety or to allow commercial development under a sharing agreement.

For the demonstration network, the PSCR will provide lab space and staff to maintain vendor-donated equipment. The lab will be located in Boulder, Colo., and will make use of the Commerce Department’s Table Mountain Field Site, a radio-quiet zone used for research and testing.

LTE is a high-performance communications standard under development for cellular systems. It is a fourth-generation technology that saw its first commercial deployment last year in Stockholm and Oslo. At least three major carriers, Verizon, AT&T and US Cellular, who among them hold 80 percent of the U.S. cellular market, have announced plans for LTE networks. But the technology remains largely in the pilot stage in this country.

Few vendors have production equipment ready for deployment in the radio frequency bands set aside for public safety, Orr said. “People are still working out the kinks in the system. They are still ‘R&Ding’ their equipment.” He said PSCR expects to begin seeing prototype and demonstration models within four to six weeks.

The PSCR has spent the past six months defining the testing capabilities that will be needed and the network architecture. It has been working with as many stakeholders as possible, including public safety agencies, vendors, and a group of state and local communities that have been given authority by the Federal Communications Commission to begin, in cooperation with the spectrum trust, deploying standalone state, regional and local LTE systems before final FCC rules are issued for the network.

The 20 waiver recipients pursuing their own networks include the states of Hawaii, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon, and a number of city and regional jurisdictions including New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia.

Orr said PSCR expects to begin making the first test calls over existing equipment in several weeks.

“That will be in a laboratory environment, probably over wire lines,” he said. He hopes that multi-vendor wireless tests can begin late this year or early next.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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