Spectrum policy: A matter of life or death

December 16, 2009: 10:00 AM ET

As airwaves become crowded with apps and chatter, government needs to preserve lanes for public safety and emergencies.

By Bob Hunsberger, CEO, NetMotion Wireless

Hunsberger distinguishes niceties and necessities. Photo: NetMotion Wireless.

I have been active in the wireless industry since the mid 1980s and privileged to witness one of the most transformative periods in the history of modern communications. Wireless technology has advanced in countless ways in recent decades, but there has always been, and will always be, one fundamental truth. Spectrum matters.

There has been a great deal of talk lately about the impact of consumer wireless devices, particularly smart phones, on our mobile networks.  Many of us enjoy using wireless data networks to access video and other bandwidth intensive applications as we go about our day.

There also is concern that these applications will bring networks to their knees.  As we debate the proper allocation of spectrum –essentially the right to transmit signals over electromagnetic wavelengths, and the scarcest resource in wireless technology – it makes sense to consider some of the benefits that mobility brings to us all, and how mobile broadband applications improve our lives in ways that we might not consider.

While enabling consumers to use high-bandwidth applications on their devices is a nicety, providing millions of mobile field workers with next-generation mobile broadband access is a necessity. For many people, the term "mobile professional" conjures up images of consumer handsets, but there are millions of mobile workers who are far more reliant on wireless networks to do their jobs.

Public safety trumps your mobile Facebook app. Really.

Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, visiting nurses, utility workers, cable and telecommunication technicians, claims adjusters, and countless others rely on wireless communications to serve our communities everyday.

Their needs transcend the consumer entertainment pursuits and should be front-and-center in the discussion about spectrum policy.

Over the years, these businesses and agencies have resolved many of the technological hurdles associated with providing wireless data communications to their field personnel, including: security, remote policy management of devices and applications, application persistence, cross-network roaming, quality of service and numerous others.

However, they all remain constrained because a lack of spectrum prevents the deployment of high-bandwidth applications that could reshape service delivery in the United States.

What's the frequency, FCC?

The Federal Communications Commission should adopt a spectrum policy that serves the broad interest of businesses and government agencies and positions the United States as the leader in mobile broadband. With a broader allocation of spectrum for mobile broadband applications, the opportunities would be profound. For example:

  • Law enforcement agencies could routinely use real-time video surveillance and monitoring from patrol vehicles, instead of relying on primitive taping systems.
  • EMTs with video-equipped systems could conduct additional on-scene wireless video consultations from an accident location with doctors at a hospital.
  • Emergency responders, such as local Red Cross Disaster Action Teams (DAT), FEMA personnel, or the National Guard, could upload images and data directly from the field.
  • Utility workers responding to power, water, or gas outages could count on downloading schematics onsite, saving precious time and resources.
  • Delivery personnel could run multiple applications simultaneously on their wireless PDAs or notebooks to check inventory, route locations or place order fulfillment.
  • Mobile clinics-on-wheels that deliver healthcare services to underserved communities could reliably communicate remotely with larger medical facilities and transmit X-rays and other high-bandwidth images in real-time.
  • Insurance adjustors could capture and record additional video footage onsite and send information to centralized databases for processing.

As envisioned by the Administration's current broadband stimulus efforts, entire underserved towns or communities could receive true broadband access for the first time by using wireless technology. Such access would benefit businesses, municipal departments, schools, and individual consumers in areas where service providers have opted not to provide DSL, cable, or fiber infrastructure because of cost.

As a businessman, I expect my smartphone and laptop to work while I am on-the-move. When they do not, it is an inconvenience. For the millions of mobile workers in public safety and field service jobs, the implications are usually far more serious.

In October of this year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "I believe that the biggest threat to the future of mobile in America is the looming spectrum crisis."  We should adopt a spectrum policy that serves the broad interest of businesses and government agencies and positions the United States as the leader in mobile broadband. This requires giving our mobile field workers the spectrum they need to run these mobile broadband applications and get their job done.

Bob Hunsberger is CEO of NetMotion Wireless, a leading developer of mobile software that enables the mobile workers to remotely access their corporate networks.

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