Back in 2005 Congress passed a law that requires all U.S. TV stations to convert to all digital broadcasts and give up analog spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band. This law will free up 62 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band and effectively eliminate channels between 52 and 69. This conversion, which has a deadline of February 18, 2009, has freed up spectrum that is being split up by the FCC into five blocks:
- A-Block - 12 MHz, split up into 176 smaller economic areas
- B-Block - 12 MHz, split up into 734 cellular market areas
- C-Block - 22 MHz, up into 12 regional licenses
- D-Block - 10MHz, combined with approximately 10MHz allocated for public safety, a single national license.
- E-Block - 6 MHz, split up into 176 smaller economic areas
I've written in the past about the upcoming January spectrum auction - each Block has a reserve price set by FCC and if a reserve price is not met in the auction, the FCC will end up re-auctioning that piece of spectrum.
The D-Block lately has been most interesting to watch. Early on it appeared Frontline Wireless would be one of the biggest bidders for D-Block spectrum - the company was setup for D-Block and had worked closely with the FCC on putting together specifications for the spectrum. Frontline built a formidable team including Vice Chairman Reed Hundt, who served as Chairman of the FCC between 1993 and 1997. The business plan, the organization, the technology seemed to all be in place........ On January 12 the company placed the following statement on their website:
Frontline Wireless is closed for business at this time. We have no further comment.
Another company, Cyren Call also looked like they were planning to bid on the D-Block Auction but did not.
What happen? Rumor has it Frontline could not attract enough funders - it seemed like a good investment - or at least you may think so up front. Many are now asking if the FCC's approach to solving the public safety inter-operability problem is in trouble. At the same time many are also asking "Is there a better way?"
I've always liked the idea of public-private partnerships and we've seen them work in times of disaster - last August I wrote here about the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapse tragedy and how within minutes USI Wireless opened their subscription-based Wi-Fi service so anyone could use it for free. US Wireless didn't just stop there - because the network had only been built around part of the disaster, the company installed additional Wi-Fi radios in areas surrounding the catastrophe to blanket it with signals, providing an additional 12 megabits per second of capacity to the area around the bridge collapse.
A national network built from scratch may be too big of a bite though. Today I had an interesting conversation with Rivada Networks’ Vice President John Kneuer. Rivida uses existing cellular networks and commercial off-the-shelf technology to deliver high-speed voice and data services over a network that can survive natural or man-made disasters. I like the idea of using the existing commercial infrastructure for public safety for lots of reasons. I'll write tomorrow about Rivida's public-private partnership and technology approach.