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Lawmakers probe interoperability, price of public safety devices

Key House lawmakers sent a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday asking about devices that are being used by public safety officials and why it has been so hard for police, fire and other public safety emergency responders to communicate with each other.

In their letter, Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Barton (R-Tex.) asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to explain how the device market for public responders today – used mainly for voice communications – has played a role in the fragmentation of communications equipment standards for different emergency responders. The agency's plan for a public safety network has been caught in a tug-of-war between competing interests over how such a wireless network should be constructed.

Among their questions, to be answered by July 15:

1) List of top four vendors of public safety narrowband equipment and their respective market shares
2) Have propriety solutions affected interoperability, innovation, cost or competition in the market for equipment?
3) Does the current structure of the public safety equipment market hinder efforts to achieve interoperability for a broadband public safety network?

The lawmakers, who also include Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), held a hearing on a proposed interoperable public safety network by the FCC in late May. At the hearing, committee members heard from Dereck Orr, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who credited part of the problem of interoperability to a limited pool of vendors for equipment and devices and the cost of equipment that is much higher than phones sold commercially.

The FCC’s public safety bureau chief has proposed that a public safety network be built on open standards and with devices at the same cost as smart phones, as opposed to proprietary devices that can cost thousands of dollars each.

“Some have suggested these factors limit public safety’s options and may even undermine attempts to achieve interoperability,” the Congressmen wrote.

By Cecilia Kang  |  July 1, 2010; 2:03 PM ET
Categories:  AT&T , Broadband , FCC , Mobile , Spectrum  
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Well, Motorola used to have the lion's share of the public safety radio market (e.g., 70% or more). I don't know if that's changed.

The big problem is that public safety gets, maybe, 5% or less of the R&D dollars that commercial wireless (cellular) gets. There's just not that much money in it.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | July 1, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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