California's Largest Tribe Deploys First White Space Broadband for Remote Public Safety Environment

The Yurok Reservation in Northern California is conducting live video training


The future has arrived at the Yurok Reservation in northern California.

Historically, the entire reservation, including every public safety agency, was forced to share a single T1 line, causing communications bottlenecks and slower than dial-up connections. Now, the Yurok community has a dedicated public safety line in order to access criminal databases and will soon have the ability to conduct live video training with their firefighters, support clinics that can perform virtual telemedicine and implement an emergency services plan that is completely self-sufficient.

The new TV White Space technology and the backbone network being built to support it will transform the Yurok community's public safety communications system, ultimately paving the way for other tribes to follow.

It began when Carlson Wireless engineered one of the first software-defined radios two years ago, with the sole purpose of bringing broadband to remote locations using the unconventional TV White Space. Carlson's first benefactors were Native Americans. It has long been the company's mission to support rural communities with affordable communication solutions that work well in challenging terrain. Now, with the advent of this new spectrum, there is an opportunity to make great strides within the uncharted territories of Indian reservations.

Just north of Carlson's offices in Arcata is the largest Native American tribe in the state of California. The Yurok reservation spans over 44-miles of mountainous, heavily forested land, presenting many signal obstacles.

"We call our project the YurokConnect Project," says Jim Norton, broadband manager for the Yurok Tribe. "It came about essentially as a result of years of frustration for our IT Director, Paul Romero, in trying to deliver Internet, networking and telecommunications services throughout the Yurok offices and education facilities that are spread across the reservation--in particular, the public safety offices."

The project must be able to serve not only public safety entities, but also provide Internet access for businesses and tribal offices on the reservation, as well as the majority of the Internet-starved population on and surrounding the reservation.

"All data access at this point is via our point-to-point wireless links through our main offices, where we have a single T1 for the Internet that is shared by up to 100 other computers and users at any given time," says Norton. "So, during the day, for any kind of Internet access or inter-office contact, we see dial-up speeds. We can't support things like online conferencing or training of any sort, particularly if it requires a video feed--we just don't have the bandwidth. Not only are our regular operations affected, but also our public safety."

Several years ago, in researching the possibilities to accomplish this, it became apparent that older technologies such as directional antennas, T1 or satellite would be cost-prohibitive or suffer unreliable connection. Nevertheless, progress was needed, and Romero's team proceeded to acquire grants and begin the process of building towers. Then, TV White Space and Carlson Wireless changed everything.

When the project was first conceived, White Space technology didn't exist. Everyone remembers when television broadcasting transitioned from analog to digital a couple of years ago, which freed up spectrum that is now being reused primarily in rural areas. It allows much better signal propagation over rugged, vegetated terrain. The Yurok reservation is the perfect poster child for that description. Carlson saw the opportunity to help and offered an unprecedented and revolutionary solution.

"Let me give you an idea of the impact this technology has on our project," says Norton. "We had projected being able to serve approximately 70%-80% of the reservation and the people on it with the existing technologies. Each location would require a site visit by our technician and then installation of external, directional antennas oriented at the towers and more--the typical type of telecommunications install that you see with cable or telephone.

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