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Federal Communications Commission



Establishing Interoperability

January 25th, 2011 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

The quest for true interoperability dominates our daily work within the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.  Interoperability is elusive and exacting.  It must be pursued as a full-time job with full knowledge of the factors that have defeated interoperability in the past.  As it has before, today the Commission took significant and positive steps to ensure the interoperability for the future of public safety communications.

The National Broadband Plan, submitted to Congress in March, 2010, set forth a comprehensive framework for creating a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. As part of this framework, the Plan recommended the creation of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) to ensure nationwide interoperability. In April the Commission established ERIC within the Public and Homeland Security Bureau, where it is already playing an invaluable role assisting the Bureau as it develops rules and requirements for public safety broadband networks. In December, the Bureau adopted ERIC’s recommendations for an initial set of technical requirements to govern the early network deployments of public safety broadband waiver recipients. In developing its recommendations, ERIC has worked closely with the Commission’s federal partners and with the public safety community—including the members of the ERIC Technical Advisory Committee. We thank these individuals and agencies for their tireless efforts.  

With today’s item, the Commission delivers further on the Plan’s vision by adopting an order and further notice of proposed rulemaking on public safety broadband network interoperability. As the Plan recognizes, broadband technologies “will give first responders new tools to save American lives.” However, the transformative potential of broadband will remain unfulfilled if first responders are unable to communicate effectively.  The technical framework advanced in this item will create a baseline for deployment to ensure that public safety personnel are able to communicate when they converge on the scene of an emergency, wherever it may strike. 

The order designates LTE as a common technology platform for the nationwide network. LTE, a 4G broadband communications standard that several commercial wireless carriers are already deploying, has emerged as the technology of choice for public safety broadband communications. Although the Commission does not usually designate technologies, the adoption of LTE for public safety broadband networks is a critical baseline in ensuring that these networks are truly interoperable.  The record on this point was overwhelming.  The public safety community was united in its comments, and it just makes good sense.

The further notice seeks comment on a broad array of issues relevant to achieving public safety broadband network interoperability. It seeks comment first on an architectural vision for the network and on whether high-level principles should be established to guide the network’s development. Another major focus of the further notice is on how to implement a public safety-to-public safety roaming regime. The ability of public safety personnel to roam onto public safety networks outside their jurisdiction is an essential component of interoperability; accordingly, the further notice seeks comment on a host of issues relevant to developing a viable roaming framework for public safety broadband networks.

The further notice addresses many technical components of interoperability, such as network identifiers and system interfaces. It also proposes that public safety equipment and devices undergo testing to ensure that interoperability is truly being achieved.  Other issues addressed in the further notice, such as performance and coverage, are important to ensuring that public safety networks achieve a baseline of operability necessary to support interoperable communications.

Finally, the further notice seeks comment on how to ensure that public safety broadband networks are fully interoperable with Next Generation 911 networks. As we move forward with this proceeding and with the Commission’s comprehensive inquiry into NG911, we must be mindful of how these two proceedings link together.   

I hope that the further notice portion of this action will elicit a wide array of detailed comments on the myriad issues it presents. We look forward to reviewing these comments and to continuing our dialogue with the public safety community, our federal partners, and other stakeholders, whose input is crucial to our developing a regulatory framework for achieving true interoperability.

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