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Using 4.9GHz is protected by the FCC for public safety use

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 our cities.

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 antenna used.

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 10-digit FRN

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 Band”

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 applicable

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 the Throughput?

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 advertised distance.

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.

Recommended Installation Process for The Security Integrator

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 support.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.

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