WNET Tests Spectrum for N.Y. Emergencies


Stephen Carrol Cahnmann, director of convergence for New York's public television station WNET(TV) recently found himself with a ton of Instructional Television Fixed Service (IFTS) spectrum and a big idea for how to use it.

Cahnmann's idea was to use the station's IFTS spectrum as a two-way dissemination system to deliver information to public safety officials—that is firemen, policemen and EMS workers—responding to emergencies.

"What we are planning to do—send data out into the field so a firefighter can receive it while acting at an incident site and then request additional information or send information, like resolution video—no one has really constructed that or tested it out in a real world urban environment," Cahnmann says. "What better place to do that than in the canyons of Manhattan and New York City, because it is a difficult wireless broadcast environment."

In 2002, with the 9/11 attacks as a catalyst, Congress instituted the National Technology Alliance, a five-year program with the mission to adapt commercial technologies to government use. The Department of Defense chose the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to run it. NIMA in turn brought on Rosettex Technology & Ventures Group.

Cahnmann contacted Rosettex and told a friend there about his ideas for the extra spectrum. Soon, NIMA awarded WNET $500,000 to research and develop his idea for the use of the station's IFTS spectrum.

Keeping the NTA's guidelines of using commercially available technology in mind, WNET and Rosettex will use a simple receiver decoder, which resembles a set top box, loaded in a van, to test their ability to send data downstream and get replies and requests back from the field. To determine the system's capacity range for two-way flows, high-resolution video and other rich data will be tested on the downstream path.

Because the upstream path—communications from the first responders—is much narrower, low-resolution video and smaller data collected at emergency sites will be tested via that route. Along with military-strength encryption, the system will be further secured through Internet protocol addresses where a targeted pool of people can safely receive and send information.

WNET is attempting to improve the New York's current reliance on a low-powered cellular communications system. "We want a mix between a highly cellularized system and the traditional broadcast system with just one transmitter," explains Cahnmann. "Ultimately we want to cover the metro area with something on the order of twelve remote station receive hubs. Now it becomes a simpler matter of having a generator at each hub. We would be protected in a blackout."

With funding secured for only one year, WNET and Rosettex are hoping preliminary tests will lead to funding for the project to be placed into full operational use.