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700 MHz Public Safety Spectrum

The 700 MHz Band is an important swathe of spectrum available for both commercial wireless and public safety communications.  The Band consists of 108 megahertz of spectrum running from 698-806 MHz and was freed up as a result of the Digital Television Transition. 

The location of the 700 MHz Band -- just above the remaining TV broadcast channels -- gives it excellent propagation characteristics.  This allows the 700 MHz signals to penetrate buildings and walls easily and to cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure (relative to frequencies in higher bands).  

In 2008, the FCC auctioned licenses to use portions of the 700 MHz Band for commercial purposes.  Mobile wireless service providers have since begun using this spectrum to offer mobile broadband services for smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, and other mobile devices.

On February 22, 2012, the U.S Congress enacted the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Recovery Act of 2012 (Spectrum Act) which:

  • Directed the Commission to allocate the D-Block (758-763 MHz / 788-793 MHz) to public safety for use in a nationwide broadband network; and

  • Formed the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce. FirstNet is charged with responsibilities for deploying and operating the nationwide public safety broadband network and will hold the license for both the existing public safety broadband spectrum (763-769 MHz/793-799 MHz) and the reallocated D Block.

  • Allocated up to $7 billion dollars to FirstNet to construct this nationwide public safety broadband network.

The following figure depicts spectrum allocated for public safety in the 700 MHz band after enactment of the Spectrum Act.

700 MHz Band Plan for Public Safety Services

Narrowband Segment (769-775/799-805 MHz)

The Narrowband segment consists of 1920 6.25 kHz-wide channels operating as 960 pairs. Subject to compliance with spectrum usage efficiency requirements, licensees may combine two to four contiguous narrowband channels (6.25 kHz) to form 12.5 kHz and 25 kHz bandwidth channels. These channels are allocated into seven distinct groups and are governed by rules which are codified at 47 C.F.R. Part 90, Subpart R.

  1. Narrowband Interoperability Channels: 128 6.25 kHz-wide channels (64 pairs) designated for interoperability use, including data Interoperability channels, calling Interoperability channels, and trunking Interoperability channels. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(1). Administration of these channels occurs at the state level either by a State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) or an equivalent agency. Link: http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/700-MHz/interoperability.html

  2. General Use Channels: 1232 6.25 kHz-wide channels (616 pairs) designated for general use subject to Commission approved regional planning committee regional plans. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(6).

  3. General Use (Former Reserve Channels): 96 6.25 kHz-wide channels (48 pairs) designated in October 2014 for general use subject to Commission approved regional planning committee regional plans. Public safety incumbents relocating from the 470-512 MHz band (T-Band) in the urban areas specified in Sections 90.303 and 90.305 of the Commission’s rules have priority access to these channels. Outside the urban areas specified in Sections 90.303 and 90.305 of the Commission’s rules, no more than eight 12.5 kHz-wide channel pairs may be designated for temporary deployable mobile trunked infrastructure (F2BT) that could be transported into an incident area to assist with emergency response and recovery. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(2).

  4. State Channels: 384 channels (192 pairs) directly licensed to each state, territory, district and possession. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(5).

  5. Air-Ground Channels: 32 6.25 kHz-wide channels (16 pairs) reserved for air-ground communications to be used by low-altitude aircraft and ground based stations. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(7).

  6. Narrowband Low Power Channels: 36 channels 6.25 kHz-wide (18 pairs) designated for low power use for on-scene incident response purposes using mobiles and portables. These channels are subject to regional planning. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(3).

  7. Narrowband Low Power Itinerant: 12 6.25 kHz-wide channels (6 pairs) designated for low power use for on-scene incident response purposes using mobiles and portables. These channels are not subject to regional plans. See 47 C.F.R. § 90.531(b)(4).

Applications for the 700 MHz Public Safety General Use channels must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate Regional Planning Committee within the area of proposed operation, prior to submission to a FCC certified public safety frequency coordinator. See http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/coord.html. For more information on how to apply for and obtain RPC approval for 700 MHz General Use spectrum in your area, see http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/700-MHz/regional-planning.html. An interactive map of 700 MHz RPC regions is also available at http://publicsafety.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/700-MHz/rpc-map.htm.

700 MHz Regional Planning

The general use channels and some of the narrowband low power channels are subject to regional planning. There are 55 Regional Planning Committees (RPCs), whose task is to create a plan for General Use in their area is used and submit it to the FCC. The Regional Planning page includes information on regional maps and plans, regional planning committees, and the latest information on regional planning committee meetings. Link: http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/700-MHz/regional-planning.html

Public Safety/Private Partnership for Broadband

A key element of the 700 MHz public safety spectrum is the establishment of a framework for a 700 MHz Public Safety/Private Partnership between the licensee for one of the commercial spectrum blocks and the licensee for the public safety broadband spectrum.

700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network

In a Second Report and Order released in 2007, the Commission devised a public-private partnership framework for the development of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network in the 700 MHz Public Safety Band. Under this framework, a ten megahertz block (763-768/793-798 MHz) was allocated for public safety broadband services and licensed on a nationwide basis to a Public Safety Broadband Licensee. An adjacent 10 megahertz allocation, the D Block (758-763/788-793 MHz), was designated for commercial auction under terms that would have required the eventual licensee to develop a shared wireless broadband network in the twenty megahertz of spectrum associated with both licenses.

The auction held in early 2008, however, failed to produce a winning bid for the D Block. In a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Third Further Notice of Rulemaking, the Commission sought comment on the best path forward for the D Block and the envisioned nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network in light of this outcome.

Since then, the Commission adopted an order (Waiver Order) in May 2010 granting conditional waivers to twenty-one public safety jurisdictions to pursue early deployment of statewide or regional public safety broadband networks. The Waiver Order imposed, among other conditions, the requirement that these networks deploy the Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband technology platform. In a December 2010 order, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, in consultation with the Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC), adopted further interoperability requirements for these early deployments.

On January 26, 2011, the Commission adopted a Third Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding. In the Third Report and Order, the Commission codified the requirement that 700 MHz public safety broadband network operators adopt 3GPP Release 8 (LTE) or higher as a common technology platform. In the Fourth Further Notice, the Commission considered and proposed additional requirements to further promote and enable nationwide interoperability among public safety broadband networks operating in the 700 MHz band. The issues addressed in the Fourth Further Notice remain pending.

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