You are concerned that providers of critical national infrastructure may not have sufficient spectrum. What’s the problem?
There is limited infrastructure and at the same time the nation is bulging at the seams and demand for it is growing. If you are a public body or a private organisation, and you need to have access to spectrum to function, then you will have to participate in an auction. If you can’t generate large amounts of money and you fail in the auction then you are in a dilemma as to how you fulfil your obligations. That’s something FCS is trying to persuade politicians they need to think about a little more. We feel it’s been forgotten in the dash to satisfy the short-term needs of commercial interests like mobile operators.
How would you like to see spectrum managed differently?
There are proposals for a national infrastructure review organisation, looking at all types of infrastructure. The way the spectrum management policy is being put in place needs refining to understand all the different parts of the economy. Talking about spectrum is too general. [Instead], if we were to look at 380KHz to 400KHz, 860KHz to 900KHz, or 25KHz, we would find completely different stories.
How will the contribution of wireless technology help to improve the environment?
The big issue is how smart metering will help with climate change. Smart meters and smart grids will need to be joined together. In some cases this may mean with landlines, but in many others, it will be through wireless connections.
People often think smart metering is a meter in their own home or business premises. Is that what we mean by smart metering?
Yes and no. First you need a smart grid joining up the different power sources, like a wind turbine on a farm. And those power sources all need to be joined up, and the energy allowed to go backwards and forwards into the grid. The smart grid will be managed by a landline [or] wireless connection. The question is: are the new fibre networks that are being installed by companies like BT going to be the best to join up a national grid? Or will they just provide some of the answer, with wireless doing the rest?
You are quite involved with Digital Britain. How do you feel about its process?
We have spent three months, from the end of November until now, debating, and we are still only at the report stage in the House of Lords. That Bill may or may not survive if any general election is called in the next month or so.
I think the importance of industry infrastructure and how it needs to be improved and maintained is understood. The political point is how the improvements will be made. Will Ofcom need new powers in order to do it? Or will an incoming administration say it believes Ofcom already has sufficient powers to just go off and do it?
Do you feel the election will cause disruption?
I think there is a risk of it slowing down progress because there are so many things, particularly the economy, which would take precedence with any incoming administration. The message that infrastructure investment is really important is there, it is a matter of how things will get done.
At Mobile World Congress, infrastructure providers were saying Governments need to release spectrum more quickly from analogue TV spectrum. Do you agree?
Analogue TV spectrum can be made available to mobile broadband, or it can be released under auction, where the mobile broadband report is probably excessive because they have a lot of money. The issue is ensuring that spectrum is reserved for national infrastructure that needs it.
The emergency services are only a small part of what we are talking about. For example, you can’t get an emergency response if you don’t have electricity, and that has been forgotten about.
There is much debate about Ofcom. What do you think of its role?
Ofcom is being very cautious at the moment, as it has had to defend itself against litigation. The 2.6GHz auction that was scheduled for a year ago has been held up by various mobile operators raising questions in court.
The regulator is not dominating as you might expect it to do, it is having to constantly check every single thing it does.
How will wireless technology be used in the future?
The industry will use a lot of machine to machine technology. Obviously, there will be a trend to reduce staff in organisations, but also to make sure that they are well supported with information and communications, and that has to require wireless.
Wireless technology will assist people to do things like remote heart monitoring, though there will be social ramifications from that. Wireless will contribute to everything from increasing efficiency to reducing costs.
What prospects do you see for TETRA within the overall opportunities for wireless?
The UK is the nut to crack for the TETRA industry. Sectors like airports, are really looking forward to having their own. They need spectrum, and it has to be frequencies that the products will work on.
You see a lot of scope for TETRA in the UK then?
There was a lot of scope, but now it is a question of what TETRA can provide vs what digital mobile radio can provide, because we now have the DMR specifications. At the moment, TETRA seems to be applied to bigger certified systems. But the sales of DMR seem significant, so there is enthusiasm in that sector.
Jacqui Brookes OBE, is CEO of the Federation of Communication Services