ARRL Files Comments in Two Matters Before FCC
On Tuesday, May 27, ARRL filed electronic comments concerning two matters that the FCC has under consideration. The first set of comments concern a company that filed a request for a waiver of Part 90 of the FCC rules; ReconRobotics, an electronics manufacturer, wishes to sell and for its public safety customers to use a robotic device that operates in the 430-448 MHz band. The primary allocation in that portion of the spectrum is United States government radiolocation (military radars). The Amateur Service has an allocation on a secondary basis. The second matter deals with GE Healthcare and their request for allocation of spectrum (as a secondary user) in the 2300 MHz band; the Amateur Radio Service has a primary allocation in a portion of the requested band.
On January 11, 2008, ReconRobotics filed a request with the FCC for a waiver of Part 90 of the Commission's Rules with respect to the Recon Scout, a remote-controlled, maneuverable surveillance robot designed for use in areas that may be too hazardous for human entry. This device can be thrown, dropped or launched into hazardous areas and can provide an operator located a safe distance away with video and audio, along with infrared, biological, chemical, heat, radiation or other data. According to the FCC, ReconRobotics seeks a waiver to permit equipment authorization of the Recon Scout, and its use by state and local law enforcement and firefighting agencies and by security personnel in critical infrastructure industries.
The FCC said a waiver is required to permit licensing of the Recon Scout because "the device operates in the 430-448 MHz band, which is allocated to the Federal Government Radiolocation service on a primary basis, and to the amateur service and certain Non-Federal radiolocation systems on a secondary basis." ReconRobotics asserts that because the Recon Scout operates with 1 W peak power, it is "unlikely to cause interference to these services."
The ARRL contends that "Because [this device] operates on a channelized basis, each of the three channels being six megahertz wide, the necessary bandwidth of the device is apparently close to 6 MHz. [ReconRobotics] asks that it be granted an unspecified series of permanent waivers to allow the marketing and sale to, and use of this device by law enforcement and fire department personnel for public safety applications. The Amateur Service, which has a heavily occupied, secondary allocation in the 420-450 MHz band...would be potentially substantially impacted by grant of these waivers."
In its comments, the ARRL notes that ReconRobotics is asking for "unspecified permanent waivers of Part 90 rules" in order to market and sell its product, but, as the ARRL points out, more than the Part 90 rules would have to be waived. "Because the three channels (430-436 MHz, 436-442 MHz and 442-448 MHz) on which the device is proposed to operate…are all within that segment [430-450 MHz], what is being requested is not only a waiver of Part 90 service rules, but also a waiver of Section 2.106 of the Commission's Rules, the Table of Allocations. The only allocations in the 430-450 MHz band are for Government Radiolocation (limited to military radars) and on a secondary basis, the Amateur Service. Per Section 90.273 of the Commission's rules, frequencies above 429.99375 MHz and below 450 MHz are unavailable to stations in the land mobile service anywhere in the United States."
The ARRL's comments also state that ReconRobotics "fails to establish that the 420-450 MHz band is the only viable choice and that no other band would be suitable; an obligation of the Petitioner in order to entitle it to a waiver." In requesting the waiver, ARRL asserts that ReconRobotics only claimed, but did not show, prove or demonstrate, that other bands were not suitable for its purposes. In other cases before the FCC as recent as 2006, the Commission denied such waivers, saying, "We do not believe that the public interest requires grant of a waiver merely to accommodate a manufacturer's choice of a specific frequency when others are available."
The ARRL contends, in its comments, that "nothing in the four corners of [ReconRobotics'] request indicates anything that would verify the factual conclusions offered. The waiver request boils down to 'trust us, we have checked into this.'"
The ARRL claims that a permanent waiver of the Commission's Rules permitting nationwide marketing and use on a licensed basis of land mobile short-range transmitters, benefiting as it does only one manufacturer to the exclusion of all others, "is an inferior method of conducting spectrum allocations and spectrum management" and that ReconRobotics "should be required to refile its proposal as a petition to modify the Table of Allocations for this purpose. Its petition should be vetted in the normal course, and would be properly evaluated based on a complete technical compatibility showing, which is not included in the present Waiver Request."
ReconRobotics developed its Recon Scout device for use by the US military in Iraq, where frequency allocations differ from those in the United States. "Rather than reconfigure the product to operate in domestic applications in accordance with the domestic Table of Allocations, and in accordance with domestic Part 90 or Part 15 rules," the ARRL maintains, "the manufacturer's own prior choices are dictating the alleged 'need' for the waiver. As the Commission has stated previously, manufacturer choices do not constitute a valid basis for grant of a permanent waiver to permit part 90 land mobile operations. This is especially true where the proposed use falls well outside the Table of Allocations."
The ARRL points out in its comments that there are differing amateur operations throughout the 420-450 MHz band. One of the channels ReconRobotics is requesting use of -- 442-448 MHz -- is used by amateur repeaters (with band plans varying by locality) and also for Amateur television repeater inputs. "These repeater inputs, both for voice and video, are at high locations where line-of-sight to [ReconRobotics] devices should be expected anywhere in the United States. Repeaters in this band are routinely used for emergency communications via Amateur Radio for numerous served agencies including FEMA, and so at times when [ReconRobotic's] device may be expected to be used, the repeaters may be expected to be in operation in the same areas," ARRL comments state.
For this reason as well, the ARRL maintains that interference to [the Recon Scout] device may be expected on a regular basis from Amateur Radio operations: "While it is all well and good for [ReconRobotics], a manufacturer, to suggest that it understands that operation of the device would be subject to interference received from licensed users in the band, such interference is not a comforting thought for licensed radio amateurs who could very easily be perceived to be, or held responsible for the failure or malfunction of these analog devices in a given application and the danger to public safety officers who are relying on them. It is also too much to expect that a Public Safety licensee will understand that the use of the device is unpredictable because interference to the device is unpredictable. [ReconRobotics] is correct about one thing: Amateur Radio operators take their relationship with First Responders very seriously. Creating fundamental incompatibility between Public Safety communications and Amateur Radio operations serves no one well at all, and for this reason, [ReconRobotics] should reconfigure its device to operate in a different allocation."
The ARRL urges the FCC to deny the waiver request, "either permanently or even temporarily," and calls on the Commission to require ReconRobotics to "initiate a rulemaking proceeding if it feels that the Part 90 or Part 15 rules governing analog devices are not sufficiently accommodating and should be changed, and could be changed consistent with interference avoidance. Repeatedly granting waivers for analog devices which do not meet the fundamental interference avoidance requirements of the existing rules is bad spectrum management and ill-serves the Amateur Service."
In December 2007, GE Healthcare filed ex parte comments in response to a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in the pending "MedRadio" proceeding, proposing that the band 2360-2400 MHz be allocated on a secondary basis for "Body Sensor Networks" (BSNs). These systems are apparently to be used for wireless patient monitoring. They are very short-range networks consisting of multiple body-worn sensors and nodes, connected via wireless to nearby hub stations at medical facilities and in homes. The Amateur Radio Service is currently allocated 2390-2400 MHZ on a primary basis.
In its comments, the ARRL states that it does not expect a "significant amount of harmful interference to Amateur operations at 2390-2400 MHz from BSNs." GE Healthcare's proposal, however, makes "erroneous assumptions about Amateur uses in these bands, and the interference potential of the devices to Amateur Radio stations in residential areas is not known."
According to GE Healthcare, they are proposing for allocation of the entire 2360-2400 MHz band for use of the BSN devices, but the ARRL contends that "in any given area, only 20 MHz of that band would be used. [GE Healthcare's] proposal specifically mentions Amateur Radio and claims that, because the band 2390-2400 MHz is 'designed (sic) for fast scan video, high rate data, packet, control and auxiliary applications' and not weak signal communications, it is well-suited for sharing with the BSN systems."
The ARRL argued that this is a misconception on GE Healthcare's part: "The fact is that there are no limitations on the type of Amateur uses to be made in these bands. The band may in fact be used in some areas for weak signal communications, on a completely unpredictable basis. The uses of this band by radio amateurs, though guided overall by a national band plan, are very much subject to local variation dictated by custom and usage. Weak signal Amateur communications utilize long propagation paths, very low received signal levels, and very high transmitted signal levels. The band is also used for long distance data, voice and television communications using relatively weak received signal levels."
In summarizing the uses of the 2390-2400 MHz Amateur allocation, GE Healthcare apparently consulted ARRL's Repeater Directory for a list of general uses of the 2390-2400 MHz band. The amateur uses listed in the general band plan for the 2390-2400 MHz segment include fast-scan TV, high-rate data, packetized data, and control and auxiliary links. The most recent Repeater Directory (2007-2008) and, it is believed, all prior versions of this publication, note at the top of the section listing the band plan for the 2300-2310 and 2390-2450 MHz bands specifically, that "this bandplan is a general recommendation. Spectrum usage can be different depending on location and regional coordination differences. Please check with your Frequency Coordinator for information."
The ARRL, in its comments, said it "is far more concerned" about potential interference to BSNs from licensed Amateur Radio operation in the 2390-2400 MHz band: "The ramifications of radiofrequency interference (RFI) to these systems in terms of danger to medical patients are obvious, and potentially severe." The ARRL contends "that the potential for interference from Amateur Radio operations, which are in this band occasionally itinerant and mobile, but most often fixed in residential areas, to BSNs operated at a patient's residence would be...a problem."
GE Healthcare asserts that BSNs will "become ubiquitous" and must "be capable of reliably conveying unprocessed life-critical monitoring data to devices that are responsible for processing and primary alarming. In these scenarios, if the link were lost, a serious event such as arrhythmia or hypoxia could go unalarmed." If GE Healthcare does indeed require an "extremely reliable" communications link with a predictable quality of service," the ARRL advises that "they will not find that in the 2390-2400 MHz band and should look elsewhere. Amateur Radio operation is unpredictable, and at the substantial transmitted power levels and exceptionally high antenna gain figures used by radio amateurs in this band, there will be no reliability of BSNs in this segment, and the results of such interference would be potentially disastrous, as GE itself notes."
In light of the possibilities of harmful interference, the ARRL requested that the FCC "not proceed with the proposal of GE Healthcare as proposed in the 2390-2400 MHz band."