Friday, April 4, 2008

Regional Wireless Broadband Network (RWBN)

The District of Columbia is home to the first wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety use. Against a national backdrop of interoperability problems, scarcity of spectrum resources, and the real threat of terrorist attack, the new Regional Wireless Broadband Network (RWBN) is a model for public safety communications.

The Challenge of Interoperability

The Challenge of Interoperability Interoperability is the ability of different government agencies or public safety officials to communicate within and across departmental and jurisdictional boundaries. It remains a top concern for first responders, especially in this era of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, school violence, domestic crime, and hazardous material incidents. This issue transcends the need to communicate verbally, and includes the ability to gather and share data quickly at the scene of the emergency. The need to share data among all responders at an incident continues to be recognized by public safety as a key factor in determining the success of any coordinated response.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently recognized the NCR as having one of the best voice interoperability arrangements in the country; however, the NCR, like many other regions, has not ensured interoperability of data communications. Understanding the criticality and the need to have interoperability with all forms of communications, the National Capital Region (NCR) created the National Capital Region Interoperability Program (NCRIP) to address data interoperability in the
NCR. The program provides a holistic, interoperability solution consisting of interconnection of government institutional fiber networks (NCRnet), a Regional Wireless Broadband Network (RWBN), and a Data Exchange Hub (DEH) that NCR government agencies and organizations across the region can use to share critical data and information during an emergency and during day-to-day operations.

In November 2007 the FCC issued a Special Temporary Authority (STA) to the District of Columbia, at the center of the National Capital Region, facilitating the first wireless broadband implementation in the nation specifically for Public Safety. This STA authorized the operation of the first section of the RWBN finally making public safety grade wireless broadband services a reality for first responders within the Nation’s Capital.

The Challenge of Spectrum

The Challenge of Spectrum Sufficient radio frequency spectrum is the foundation for unfettered and high-quality reliable public safety communications systems. Unfortunately, for many years, public safety agencies across the nation have faced a severe shortage of spectrum, even for narrowband land mobile radio voice services.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently issued a landmark Report and Order establishing the rules governing wireless licenses in the 700 MHz band, which has propagation characteristics that make it ideal for wide area public safety systems. These rules, the culmination of over ten years of work, specify that 10 MHz of the 24 MHz of spectrum already set aside for public safety must be used for broadband data communications and delineate an ambitious program to promote a nationwide public safety network.

Integral to this Report and Order, the Commission has established a single nationwide Public Safety Broadband Licensee (PSBL) for the 10 MHz (5 MHz paired) of public safety data spectrum rather than rely on the Regional Planning Committees which retain their traditional role of
managing and coordinating the utilization of the narrowband portion of the spectrum.

This is a critical milestone for local, state, regional and federal first responders to gain access to the same interoperable broadband communications capabilities and technologies as the commercial world. The nationwide broadband network will provide first responders with remote access to video, high-resolution chemical and biological sensor data, and other critical data.

On Demand, In Real Time, When Needed, and As Authorized Interoperable Communications

The District of Columbia has deployed the nation’s first public-safety regional wireless broadband network including the capacity to transmit video, data and voice communications for use by emergency units, first responders and other public safety and local government personnel. The program is funded in part by a Department of Homeland Security Urban Area Security Initiatives grant and began in 2005.

This new 700 MHz network is a high-speed, seamless, interoperable, public safety grade, and secure wireless data network. It is designed to supplement the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems that public safety agencies in the District use today and replace the commercial services used by most today for wireless data. Using 1xEVDO Revision A, the same technology deployed commercially by carriers like Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, the RWBN is able to provide the same capabilities currently available from commercial services but with more reliability, flexibility, dedication and control, as required for public safety usage. In contrast to some commercial networks, the RWBN imposes no profit-driven restrictions or limitations on the applications that may operate on the network, such as streaming audio and video. Currently, the RWBN offers only PC Cards as end-user devices, but in the near future, when manufacturers begin to produce devices for the 700 MHz commercial market, the network expects to offer additional form factors such as Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) Modems, Embedded Modems for ruggedized computing devices, and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

The threat of attacks on our country and region is real, but this solution also delivers capabilities that can save lives and properties every day. Broadband tools for remote surveillance, helicopter video transmission, mug shots to the field, chemical and biological weapons detection, bomb squad support, and other mobile uses are critical to preventing and responding swiftly and effectively both to the rare attack as well as the more frequent emergency incidents that are part of maintaining law and order on a daily basis. The RWBN and similar broadband The nationwide broadband network will provide first responders with remote access to video, high-resolution chemical and biological sensor data, and other critical data.

The RWBN and similar broadbandwireless networks are resources vital to enhance first responder communications, promote effective sharing of incident information and facilitate incident command and control to manage and mitigate the effects of the next attack, natural disaster or daily incident. The RWBN is paving the way for the next-generation public safety communications platform that will not only provide enormous capabilities and benefits to National Capital Region’s
first responder community, but also create a blueprint and a test bed for future public safety deployments in the rest of the country.