HomeInsightsPublic safety networks require additional spectrum

    Public safety networks require additional spectrum


    Challenge for digital dividend spectrum to avoid network failures

    Public safety communications networks in Europe will require additional spectrum soon or they will start to fail in the provision of effective emergency communications to their users, the TETRA Association has said.

    David Happy, of the TETRA Association’s Regulatory Affairs Group, said that there is evidence that some networks have already reached capacity, and are in danger of failing to provide the capacity required the meet immediate future needs.

    The UK’s Home Affairs Committee has already raised its concern that the Airwave network will not be able to cope with the additional demand placed on it by the London Olympics in 2012.

    Now the TETRA Association is lobbying for a share of the digital dividend spectrum, which is due to be released by national governments and regulators over the next few years. Cellular network operators, as well as digital TV providers and others, are already campaigning fiercely for the EU and national governments to allocate spectrum specific to their services.

    “This is a fight that will determine the survival of the industry,” Happy said. “Without the [extra] spectrum it [broadband data services] is never going to happen.”

    At the moment, public safety organizations have less than 1% of the available spectrum, Happy pointed out. So how much extra spectrum is required?

    “The ideal would be 2 x 15MHz,” Happy said, “but certainly that would depend on what the requirements and processes are.”

    The problem for the public safety proponents in the UK is that the government is targeting the release of the spectrum as a revenue raiser – considering auctions. That would mean that any award to Airwave, to increase capacity, would have to be justified economically as well as in terms of public safety. Happy said a business case is being prepared right now for submission to Ofcom.

    Although public safety allocation in the UK is a matter for Government, rather than the Regulator, the two will need to work together to come to a solution, Happy said.

    Phil Kidner, CEO of the TETRA Association said that public safety bodies require dedicated networks because cellular and other networks can go down at times of peak crisis. “Yes, you could say that we could piggyback on UMTS and 4G networks, but we have our specific requirements, and in a major event reliability and availability is critical" he said.

    The UK Government said in February 2009 that it is aware of the issues. In its Policing in the 21st Century document it said:
    “The Home Office and police colleagues have recognised the importance of Airwave and the fact that there will need to be a significant increase in capacity requirements during the 2012 Games. We are already planning to expand capacity to ensure that the Airwave network remains resilient, involving technical expertise in this process to ensure that these plans are deliverable.
    To this end, we have been working with the NPIA, as holders of the national Airwave contract to take forward our anticipated requirement. Airwave Solutions, in partnership with the NPIA, is in the process of working with all of the affected forces to gather radio communications requirements for the Olympics and is assessing the capacity that will be required to ensure that the service available during the Olympics will be fit for purpose.
    Airwave Solutions have already provided proposals on ways in which they could bridge potential capacity shortfalls, which include increasing capacity if operational requirements demand it. In light of this, the Home Office is consulting with Ofcom on the release of additional radio spectrum, should this be required.”

    Lack of harmonisation

    A further problem is that across Europe, although the EU may issue recommendations on digital dividend spectrum it cannot mandate a harmonised approach, and allocation is also a matter for individual governments. Although many are committed to the release of part of the spectrum for mobile broadband services, some countries appear less willing, notably Italy, which has said that it will reserve the spectrum for digital TV broadcasters.