Frontline Wireless is a new start-up aiming to bid on wireless spectrum that it will let police and other emergency response agencies use, in the hopes of making a profit at the same time.
The strategy, led by an interesting mix of interests, potentially including Google, is to get a corner on a 12MHz section of spectrum of long-wave radio, which is designed for big open spaces. Wifi is for offices and metro areas. This long-wave radio spectrum is great for places like the hills beyond Berkeley, Calif, where it could reach your car’s GPS device, your RIM or iPhone, and provide it with wireless broadband.
Frontline’s network, importantly, would be an open network, having plenty of room for anyone who wants to lease part of it (from the eventual owner). This stands in contrast to the closed networks owned by the carrier networks. The key condition of Frontline’s proposal: That whoever successfully bids on the 12MHz will also open it up for use to emergency response services (first responders) for their free use.
Frontline Wireless plans to make a bid on the spectrum this year, co-founder and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt told VentureBeat during an interview earlier this morning. He knows of few other companies interested in making a similar bid. The 12MHz he wants is part of the 60MHz to be auctioned by the federal government in early 2009. Hundt’s proposal is an answer to a request by the FCC commissioner for good ideas about how to use the auction for public safety. The lack of a common national network for police and fire departments was made tragically clear during 9/11 • so there really is a good reason for this. The 60MHz of spectrum to be auctioned lies in the 700MHz to 800MHz band, part of a spectrum close enough to existing first responder frequencies that it makes sense, Hundt said.
Meanwhile, the company has won an undisclosed amount of investment from high-profile angel investor Ram Shriram. Hundt said he met with Shriram last year at Evvia restaurant in Palo Alto, and sought his support because Shriram can open doors in the tech world. Namely, Google.
That company has been an early supporter of “network neutrality” for fixed broadband. It will likely be a backer of wireless broadband, too, Hundt reasons. Moreover, RIM and Palm and Apple may also be interested.
Frontline has a credible management team: Besides Hundt (a Democrat), there’s Janice Obuchowski, a former head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (and Republican), and Hayes Griffen, chief executive of Vanguard Cellular (later acquired by AT&T Wireless for $1.7 billion).
The company’s open-access pitch may help it avoid the problems that Cyren Call, another venture-backed company has run into. That company’s bid for a lower piece of the spectrum was recently rejected by the FCC. Bids for the upcoming auction will take place later this year.