Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Interesting articles about upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions over at Spectrum Matters, where Nick accurately notes that this is an insanely important change that nobody really knows about. There have been a few under-the-fold articles in the San Jose Mercury News, but mostly these just talked about the impact to next-gen systems like WiMax. The real and underreported story here is that some of this spectrum will get set aside for a nationwide interoperable emergency communications system, and with any luck we'll see this system deployed sometime between now and when my newborn daughter graduates college. The issue is important enough that the Wireless Communications Alliance has created the Emergency Communications Leadership and Innovation Center dealing specifically with this topic.

For the uninitiated, the issue at hand is this. In the past few years we've seen examples of disasters (Sept 11th, Katrina, Florida) which have overwhelmed the communication capabilities of the local emergency response infrastructure. Well-meaning people from around the world sent teams into these areas in a desire to help, only to find that they could not communicate with other groups or even the locals. People like Brian Steckler from the Naval Postgraduate School had to create ad-hoc "hastily-formed networks" to replace some of the missing infrastructure, and amateur radio operators acted as relays between agencies whose radios could not interoperate.

These problems occurred after disasters which "only" claimed a few thousand lives. What if we have a disaster (tsunami, pandemic flu, meteor strike, terrorist attack, etc) which claims tend of thousands of lives or even (God-forbid) millions? How will the responding agencies communicate? So the government (in a rare display of forward thinking and long-term strategy) has decided that once analog TV is shut down some of that spectrum will go to this nationwide interoperability system. Of course, not everything thinks this is a great idea.

Is it real? Will it survive a possible party shift in the White House come 2008? Will we see it in our lifetimes? Time will tell.

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