Public safety agencies in Australia are to be given an additional 60MHz of spectrum to enable the deployment of high-speed, nationally interoperable mobile 4G broadband networks under proposals outlined by the country’s spectrum regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at the end of October 2012.
The proposed strategy follows the USA’s lead in providing dedicated spectrum for public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) networks. The US First Responder Network is to have 2 x 20MHz of 700MHz spectrum and $7bn in government funding.
Both countries are now well ahead of their European peers in identifying the way forward. Public safety agencies (PSAs) in European nations, including the UK, are a long way off persuading the EU and national governments that additional spectrum needs to be found to provide dedicated broadband networks for public safety agencies and potentially national critical industries, such as power, utilities and transportation.
In Australia, the additional 60MHz of spectrum will come from the 800MHz and 4.9GHz bands. Australia’s PSAs had lobbied for 2 x 10MHz of 800MHz spectrum – an amount of spectrum their European counterparts also consider to be the minimum necessary to deploy an effective 4G broadband network
However, the ACMA has opted to allocate just 10MHz in total of 800MHz, but this will be complemented by 50MHz of 4.9GHz spectrum. The precise frequencies to be provided from within the 800MHz band will be determined later in the context of the ACMA’s full review of the 803–960MHz band.
The ACMA argues that this allocation will meet the two specific needs indentified by Australia’s PSAs: the need for wide-ranging 4G coverage; together with the need for very high capacity, short range coverage for specific incidents and in high demand areas.
The 800MHz will provide the former and the 4.9GHz, recognised internationally as a public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) band, will supply the latter, as it is capable of extremely high capacity, short range, deployable data and video communications (including supplementary capacity for the PSMB network in areas of very high demand). The ACMA has released a consultation paper on this issue.
The Australian government’s response to the proposals has indicated that the spectrum will be offered at a public interest price and is conditional on a number of factors including: the network being nationally interoperable; that the states and territories fund all costs associated with design, building, maintenance and operation of the network; and an agreement to provide reasonable access to state and territory networks by relevant commonwealth agencies.
In Europe, 800MHz spectrum is off the menu for PSAs as it is being licensed to mobile phone operators. The UK’s 800MHz and 2.6GHz auction will kick off in earnest in January 2013. The next most likely chunk of spectrum to become available in Europe is the 700MHz band, which is unlikely to be cleared of its current digital terrestrial television incumbents until 2018 at the earliest.
However, it is a moot point as to whether cash-strapped European governments can be persuaded to gift their public safety agencies any of the valuable sub-1GHz spectrum for dedicated PSMB networks.