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Quantifying the Costs of a Nationwide Broadband Public Safety Wireless Network



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36th Telecommunications Policy Research Conference Sept 2008 Quantifying the Costs of a Nationwide Broadband Public Safety Wireless Network Ryan Hallahan and Jon M Peha Carnegie Mellon University Abstract The problems facing the public safety wireless communication systems in the US could be significantly reduced or eliminated through the deployment of a single nationwide network that serves all public safety personnel Two major efforts towards such a nationwide network are the Integrated Wireless Network IWN a program only for federal emergency responders and an effort by the FCC to create a public private partnership in the 700MHz band that serves state and local emergency responders the future of both projects is uncertain due in part to concerns surrounding cost To inform these concerns this paper presents the first version of a fully transparent model to estimate cost for two fundamental approaches a public safety only network and a public private partnership which serves both public safety and commercial subscribers We apply this general model to four scenarios 1 a public safety only network that only serves all public safety personnel i e local state and federal on 10MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band 2 a public private partnership that serves all public safety personnel and commercial subscribers on 20MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band and 3 4 a network that only serves all public safety personnel in either of the two bands that may be used for the federal only IWN project 168MHz 414MHz In each of these scenarios we consider networks that carry voice only data only and both voice and data We demonstrate the inefficiencies of the existing public safety infrastructure by showing that a single nationwide network could be built in its place with a small fraction of the tower sites and spectrum In fact the cost of building an entire nationwide system is comparable to what is likely to be spent in just a few years on the existing infrastructure More specifically for the public private partnership carrying voice and data we found deployment costs on the order of 10 billion which is less than the 15 20 billion previously estimated For the public safety only network carrying voice and data at 168MHz we found deployment costs on the order of 6 billion Thus if sufficient spectrum can be identified the current IWN system could be extended to include state and local responders and provide broadband data without a significant increase in cost In addition these cost estimates are highly dependent on some key parameters such as those related to capacity and coverage reliability over which there has been little serious debate If a public private partnership is to be successful values must be established for such parameters before bids are sought Otherwise potential bidders cannot even roughly estimate their costs Additionally we find that 83 of US area is currently covered by existing public safety wireless systems whereas some claim the population build out requirement established by the FCC would cover just 63 of the US and the actual coverage is more likely to be roughly 50 We also show that the estimated cost savings from relaxing the existing build out requirements are overstated The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the MacArthur Foundation Ryan Hallahan Ph D Student in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon University hallahan cmu edu Jon M Peha Professor of Electrical Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon University peha cmu edu www ece cmu edu peha 1 Introduction Considering the important role that they play in ensuring the safety of the public the existing public safety wireless communication systems in the United States are far from adequate This can be attributed to several factors but chief among them is that the many public safety agencies across the country deploy networks independently with limited coordination or standardization with neighboring agencies 1 The potential deployment of a nationwide public safety wireless system presents an opportunity to solve some of these current problems 2 A major impediment to the deployment of a nationwide public safety wireless network is the substantial estimated cost of such a project as well as the uncertainty surrounding this cost By understanding these costs better and understanding what factors impact them policymakers may be better able to determine if any of the proposals currently being considered are even feasible and if so whether or not they present a cost savings when compared to supporting the existing infrastructure In addition to cost there are some fundamental differences between the current proposals for deploying a nationwide public safety network and policymakers must understand and be able to weigh the tradeoffs between these proposals In this paper we provide a first cut analysis of the costs of various network proposals including a nationwide public private partnership and a nationwide network that serves only public safety while investigating the tradeoffs between each of them with more detail coming in future work In section 1 1 we provide some background on the existing public safety wireless communications infrastructure in the US identify the factors which have contributed to its unfortunate state and discuss why a nationwide network is a possible solution In section 1 2 we present and compare the recent proposals for a nationwide public safety network in the US and present some alternatives that have not received wide attention In section 1 3 we discuss the research questions this work hopes to address and highlight the important concepts at the root of these questions Section 1 4 discusses the outline of this paper 1 1 Background Instead of a nationwide network in the past state and local public safety agencies have deployed their own wireless communications systems There are currently more than 50 000 state and local public safety agencies using mobile radio systems for wireless communication in the United States 3 These agencies employ approximately 1 1 million first responders 4 However the majority of these agencies are relatively small having fewer than 50 users 3 A US spectrum policy of allocating spectrum individually to these agencies has led to that spectrum being substantially fragmented and allocated across 10 bands1 ranging from 20MHz to 4900MHz 5 6 7 8 Having many small agencies deploy their own systems has substantially increased the


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