Using 4.9GHz is protected by the FCC for public safety use
- By Michael Derby
- Apr 01, 2015
Americans want to be safe and the FCC is helping. The FCC reserves
valuable radio frequencies for public safety authorities that
can be used for Ultra-Reliable wireless video surveillance. These
frequencies are very advantageous and are available across the
United States. A license is completely free; it’s easy to get and is
typically obtained in 48 hours.
The FCC has only issued licenses in less than 3 percent of potential coverage
areas so these frequencies have incredibly low background noise. The use of these
reserved frequencies can enable our city’s safety professionals to better provide for
our individual safety. The reserved public safety frequencies are in the 4.9 GHz
“Public Safety Band” and are protected by the FCC to ensure that only authorized
public safety usage is allowed. This restriction enhances video reliability because
the radio can operate without potential interference from consumer products that
share the unlicensed 5 GHz, 2.4 GHz or 900 MHz bands.
Huge installation growth opportunities exist now that 4.9 GHz radios cost the
same as 5 GHz unlicensed radios and free licensing webinars are enabling quick
licensing for immediate deployment.
Critical Infrastructure Protection
The bulk electric power grid is being aggressively targeted by cyber attackers from
the dark corners of the planet with the intent to destroy grid components. The
US government believes the electric grid is a high probability target for a future
domestic terrorist attack. Analysts have estimated that if widespread destruction
of the electric power grid were to occur, 90 percent of the U.S. population would
likely perish in less than 12 months.
During past hurricanes, the regional loss of electricity for just 10 days resulted
in an uncivilized society breakdown. Recently, a gunman in California disabled a
primary electric power substation and damaged more than $10 million of critical
assets with just a hunting rifle and a single box of bullets. If the gunman had disabled
two additional substations in the area, power could have been cut to a major
California city for several days.
The electric grid is a complex interconnected network of many thousands of
physical locations with only a small fraction of the locations using video surveillance
equipment with the ability to share video to police or military. The deployment
of 4.9 GHz wireless video systems has occurred at a few critical substations around the United States with the video directly accessible to police to allow for an accelerated response. It is anticipated that government will be substantially increasing
spending to defend the bulk electric grid from cyber and physical attacks.
We will all be safer when police are better enabled to quickly respond to physical
attacks at electric substations, critical infrastructure and the public areas within
Who Can Get a License?
Private utilities and commercial entities may enter into “sharing arrangements”
with local police to support homeland security and protection of life and property.
Sharing arrangements can be a simple memo from the local police acknowledging
the private entity has approval to use the spectrum within its jurisdiction.
At this time, only government agencies are issued licenses but the FCC and
local police are eager to support any private entity that is actively contributing to
public safety and defending critical infrastructure. AvaLAN’s products are made
in the U.S.A. and our mission is to help every American to be safer.
How Can you Get a License?
Obtaining a license is easy for rapid deployment within an agencies’ jurisdiction
of city, county, or state. The license is valid for ten years and can be immediately
used for mobile, quick deployed and temporarily fixed systems. Permanently installed
[fixed] radios require additional information about the location, height and
This information is not required until the radios are operating in permanent
locations for a year, so it is recommended to wait until the system is tested and
fully operational before submitting the fixed location information. Mobile, quick
deployment and temporarily fixed radios do not require this information.
Many public safety agencies have a spectrum licensing administrator who is
familiar with the FCC’s process for getting licenses for police/fire/safety mobile
radios and “walkie-talkies”. A private entity can contact their city, county or state
police to request a “sharing agreement” memo. The police administrator can use
the steps below to obtain a 4.9 GHz license for their jurisdiction. The police administrator
then decides which non-government entities are allowed use the spectrum within its jurisdiction.
4.9 GHz licenses can be approved in
less than 48 hours. This is how:
Step 1: Register with the FCC
Go to http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls Click Register
(skip to Step 2 if already registered)
Follow the instructions to obtain a
Step 2: FCC License Application:
Go to http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls Click Log
In and then enter the FRN and password
Select “Apply for a New License”
Scroll down the “Select Service” and
choose “Public Safety 4940-4990 MHz
A pop-up window will appear with
a Java applet and the browser may require
clicking trusted and pop-ups allowed.
Step 3: Enter into
the Online Form:
Please see the table on Page 26.
Step 4: Submit the Application:
Click Submit in the lower right corner
of the screen and typically the FCC will
respond within 48 hours.
Step 5: A few months later
- Add the fixed locations if
After a fixed radio system is fully tested
and operational, it is then necessary to
add the permanently fixed radios’ locations
and antenna information to the
license. Most of the required information
about the “fixed locations” can
be gathered by simply using Google
Earth (see example below). There will
be some antenna information that the
radio manufacturer will provide.
The radio’s information includes:
- Antenna height above ground
- How the radio is mounted (pole,
tower, side of building)
- Height the antenna is above surrounding
trees or buildings (0 if below)
- Compass direction the antenna is facing
towards (0 for an access point)
- Approximate street address
- GPS coordinates with Elevation
How Far Will the Radios
Connect and How Fast is
There are industrial grade 4.9 GHz radios
on the market that have up to 40
mile range and up to 216 Mbps connection
speed [170 Mbps throughput].
With all product marketing claims,
there are footnotes to the manufacturer’s
claims that buyers should be aware
of regarding radio specifications. A
radio that can go 40 miles will need to
transmit data more slowly to go the full
It is likely that radio may only be
able to deliver 5 Mbps of throughput
at the claimed maximum distance. The
same is true for the peak connection
speed claims, but instead, distance is
likely to be reduced to 500ft at the full
connection speed of 216 Mbps. Radio
marketers typically describe maximum
range and maximum speed but use the
disclaimer “up to” because they do not do both maximum claims simultaneously.
For radio communication
systems it is always safe to assume that
distance and data rate are inversely
proportional, as distance increases,
data rate decreases and vise-versa.
How expensive are
4.9 GHz Radios?
Recently, public safety radios have
become available at prices matching
their unlicensed equivalents. There are
industrially hardened, professional
grade radios on the market for around
$1,000. It is important to consider the
return on investment occurs quickly
when installing higher quality radios
rather than the perpetual field maintenance
on lower quality products. Also
factor in the cost when an installation
goes smoothly due to receiving competent
manufacturer’s technical support
versus when crews are delayed by poor
or unavailable technical support. Like
most products, you typically get what
you pay for.
Process for The Security
Every site is different and wireless video
at 4.9 GHz typically requires visible
line of sight between radios. Visiting
the proposed site is recommended to
determine if line of sight wireless video
is practical for the site. The use of 4.9
GHz capable radios can be a key differentiator
in winning competitive bids.
Some manufacturer’s radios can operate
at 4.9 GHz and also operate in the
unlicensed 5 GHz bands. This important
feature allows flexibility for the
system to be initially deployed on an
unlicensed 5 GHz channel until the municipality
receives their 4.9 GHz license.
In some cases, this can help to accelerate
the qualification, acceptance and
invoice processing in the event the municipality
delayed its submission to the
FCC for the license. The 5 GHz channel
can be easily changed to a 4.9 GHz
channel once the license is granted using
its browser interface.
The government provided the 4.9
GHz spectrum in 2003 with the aim
to improve the safety of each citizen.
For various reasons the band has been
scarcely used with the two common
complaints: (1) the radio equipment
is priced too high and (2) obtaining a
license is too complex. AvaLAN has
overcome these obstacles and is now
taking the lead by affordably pricing
our new high-security 4.9GHz radios
at the same as our 5GHz and offering
free webinars, Q&A sessions, pre-sales
system design and experienced technical
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.