From Radio Resource
Los Angeles County is moving forward with a public-safety narrowband radio system procurement using both UHF T-band and 700 MHz spectrum with a goal of migrating the T-band users to 700 MHz spectrum over time. On Nov. 21, the FCC granted a waiver request from the county to extend until Dec. 31, 2016, the construction deadline associated with the 20 narrowband T-band licenses that are to be integrated into the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS).
Section 6103 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires public-safety licensees in the UHF T-band spectrum, used in 11 metropolitan areas across the country including Los Angeles, to vacate the spectrum within nine years. Most Los Angeles area public-safety agencies use T-band spectrum.
In addition, Los Angeles County in 2010 won $154.6 million in Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funds to build LA-SafetyNet, a 700 MHz public-safety broadband network extending across all of Los Angeles County. But in May 2012, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) partially suspended the $380 million in public-safety broadband grants awarded to seven states and jurisdictions including Los Angeles County’s BTOP funding.
LA-RICS Joint Powers Authority (JPA) had initiated a new procurement process in early November 2011 for both a public-safety LMR and broadband Long Term Evolution (LTE) system. In January 2012, the authority received two proposals, completed an evaluation of the responses, and entered negotiations with the highest scoring proposer when the suspension on the BTOP funds was imposed.
“The timing of the act could not have been worse for the LA-RICS project,” said Patrick Mallon, LA-RICS executive director. “If the legislation had been enacted prior to the submission of proposals (Jan. 3, 2012), an addendum could have been issued notifying proposers of changed requirements, and allowing them an opportunity to respond accordingly. If a contract had been executed, modification to the contract could have been effected. Unfortunately, the project was caught in the middle. The LA-RICS Authority was forced to cancel the procurement.”
The county had until the end of October to submit to the FCC a report detailing its analysis of its options for continuation of LA-RICS in light of the T-band requirements. The county completed its analysis and said it couldn’t identify a viable alternative to the T-band spectrum for LA-RICS.
“We first analyzed a relocation of the area-wide LMR system entirely to the 700/800 spectrum,” said Mallon. “Unfortunately, this was deemed unfeasible due to lack of available spectrum. The channels licensed in the greater Los Angeles area are already in use. The allocation of T-band frequencies to L.A. area public-safety agencies was originally granted because there was no other spectrum available. That condition has not changed. Additionally, the replacement of user equipment required by a wholesale move to another spectrum is cost prohibitive.”
The County of Los Angeles and cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach each hold licenses to channels in the 700 MHz narrowband spectrum. A hybrid system using the 700 MHz spectrum in combination with T-band frequencies was deemed feasible. “We feel there is sufficient spectrum when using both to meet the operational requirements,” Mallon said. “The exact number of users on either spectrum is still undetermined, but the initial rollout will be predominately on the T-band. It is our expectation that as existing user (T-band) equipment reaches the end of useful life, it will be replaced with 700 MHz compatible equipment. This eliminates the forklift replacement required in the first option and provides a transitional phase-off of T-band.”
Mallon said transmitter site selection will be based on a 700 MHz system design, reducing to the greatest extent possible the potential “breakage” resulting from a loss of the T-band spectrum. “Additionally, as the nationwide public-safety broadband network is brought into full service, with push-to-talk (PTT) voice, the demand for the T-band frequencies can be reduced and all public-safety users can migrate to the 700 MHz spectrum,” he said.
LA-RICS JPA officials continue to search for additional channels in the 700 MHz range. Eventually, it is expected that a 700 MHz system alone can support the 34,000 area wide first responders when used in concert with the nationwide broadband network.
“If these actions do not alleviate the demand for PTT and critical voice communications, intervention by the FCC may be required for additional spectrum (outside the UHF) or the continued licensing of T-band,” Mallon said.
The LA-RICS JPA board of directors released a new request for proposals (RFP) for the LMR project Oct. 25, and responses are due from prospective vendors by Jan. 3, 2013.
Following review of the responses and selection of a vendor, the JPA anticipates that a vendor contract will be finalized and a notice to proceed will be issued in May 2013. The county released the following schedule outlined for five phases:
• Phase 1 – LMR System Design – Complete by May 2014
• Phase 2 – LMR Site Construction/Modification – Complete by May 2015
• Phase 3 – LMR Telecommunications System Components – Complete by July 2015
• Phase 4 – LMR Telecommunications System Implementation – Complete by December 2016
• Phase 5 – LMR System Warranty – Complete by December 2017
The county said that final acceptance and completion of construction is projected for December 2016, which is the date of the waiver extension.
“Under the unique circumstances of this case, we conclude that granting the county an extension would be consistent with the county’s goals and the commission’s waiver criteria, and would not adversely affect other licensees,” the FCC said.
The FCC said that no other entity could use the narrowband channels in question as such use “would interfere with the county’s existing operations on overlapping wideband (20-kilohertz bandwidth) channels.” The bandwidth overlap of the county’s wideband channels with the interleaved narrowband channels would prevent new applicants in the vicinity from using the narrowband channels if they were otherwise available, the commission said.
The LA-RICS JPA is still looking for additional federal grant funds for the system. “We expect the cost for a hybrid system will be greater than a simple T-band system because of an increase in the number of transmitter sites required and the addition of more transmitters at each site,” Mallon said. “The actual increase in costs remains a question that the proposers will soon answer.”
The new RFP does not include a solicitation for the public safety broadband network included in previous solicitations. LA-RICS JPA officials are meeting with a subcommittee of FirstNet in December.
“We hope to gain some clarity on the path forward for our $154.6 million BTOP grant project,” Mallon said. “If allowed to proceed, a new and separate solicitation will be forthcoming for that portion only.”