February 16, 2009
Wireless Technology and Licensed Spectrum: What You Know Can Help You
By BARRY EINSIG
Wireless technologies and spectrum can provide either great opportunities or major challenges to public transit agencies, depending on how they view, plan, and manage their wireless resources.
Much like land use planning, proactive frequency planning can deliver a remarkable advantage for transit agency senior executives when considered as a potential asset to be leveraged. Wireless spectrum is like land use: without proper planning for lack of frequencies, sharing of frequencies, interference by others, or five-year programs, it can have a dramatic impact, positive or negative, on transit capital and/or operating budgets. Lack of planning and coordination can also impact the day-to-day operations of a system or the ability to respond in an emergency.
The opportunities that exist today for transit agencies result from the continued development of wireless technologies using internet protocol, which means that all wired and wireless systems can be managed as a single common network. This process has many advantages, including reductions in operational cost; ease of maintenance; enabling integrated data rich networks; and delivery of critical information from integrated voice and data networks from the field to operations or to others in the field. Because it is real-time and reliable, this data can be published to the riders of our systems.
One example of a great opportunity often overlooked by transit agencies is the 700 MHz narrow band spectrum. Because many transit agencies have little input in their regional planning commissioners or knowledge of the opportunity to acquire new spectrum available due to the Federal Communications Commission’s Digital TV transition, they may not work to gain access to these licenses to be able to expand their existing coverage, networks, or data capabilities.
Most of the challenges in wireless spectrum result from the lack of knowledge and planning for new technology migration, and opportunities created by FCC actions. Many occur because the transit industries, as well as many individual agencies, do not have an active role in the planning, proceedings, or positions taken on various licensed spectrum. Not maintaining an active role with regard to licensed spectrum means that the control of this spectrum is delegated to other users who may not have the same objectives or may be in conflict with what is best for transit agencies.
Many resources are available to help transit agencies to learn more about the issues and get involved. The Communications Subcommittee of the APTA Research and Technology Committee meets four times a year, at TransITech, the Bus and Paratransit Conference, the Rail Conference, and the Annual Meeting. Most of all, appoint someone on your staff to learn more about the opportunities and challenges in wireless spectrum available to your organization right now.