UK Government dashes hopes of reserving 700MHz spectrum for critical national infrastructure

Communications minister Ed Vaizey says the UK Government has no plans to reserve any 700MHz spectrum for use by the emergency services and critical infrastructure providers such as ports, utilities and rail

UK Government dashes hopes of reserving 700MHz spectrum for critical national infrastructure

The UK Government has said it has ‘no plans to reserve spectrum in the 700MHz [band] for national infrastructure projects’. The statement will deepen concerns among the UK’s three emergency services and its mission critical industries, that the Government is ignoring vital services in the rush to auction off further spectrum for mobile roaming.

The Government statement was made on 29 January 2013 by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries (pictured), in a written reply to a Parliamentary question made by Bob Stewart, MP to Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the ministry responsible for overseeing the UK’s radio spectrum assets.

The statement relates to the 700MHz band, which is the next major chunk of UK spectrum likely to be cleared - probably around 2018.The UK’s critical national infrastructure providers lack the funding to compete for any of the 800MHz or 2.6GHz spectrum currently being auctioned. Instead, only mobile phone and other telecoms operators could afford to enter the bidding. 

Stewart wrote to Miller to ask whether any of the 700MHz spectrum would be reserved for critical national infrastructure following concerns raised by Chris Pateman, chief executive of the Federation of Communication Services. In his letter to Stewart, Pateman pointed out that a recent Analysys Mason report for DCMS on the ‘Value of Radio Spectrum in the UK Economy’ had deliberately excluded the economic impact that not having private radio networks would have on national critical infrastructure such as ports, utilities and transportation systems, due to the complicated methodology required.

Pateman went on to say in his letter: ‘But this is absolutely the nub of the problem when we come to discuss the vital issue of reserved spectrum: ports and railways are in the radio spectrum business the same way farmers are in the tractor business:  it is simply a necessary tool to enable them to undertake their work.  No tractor, no food. No spectrum, no response to the 7/7 bombings.  

‘The same consumers who want to play games on their mobile phones and watch game-show repeats on TV also expect to be rescued from fires, to be safe from train crashes and to be able to receive goods from overseas in a matter of days rather than months. The Government which fails to deliver the latter because it allowed itself to become obsessed by compelling sales messages from people eager to make profits from providing the former will not be thanked in the event of a national emergency.’

However, Vaizey’s reply to Stewart appears to dash any immediate hopes the emergency services and national critical industries may have of getting some 700MHz reserved for their use, although he does not rule it out entirely.

Vaizey stated: ‘I have carefully noted the points raised by Mr Pateman; however, the Secretary of State has no plans to reserve spectrum in the 700MHz for national infrastructure projects. It is not Government policy to reserve spectrum for public sector use unless in specific cases where it can be demonstrated that the spectrum is needed for a safety or security critical requirement or to meet a mandatory international obligation. Decisions on these matters will be made on a case by case basis.’

Organisations such as the FCS and the TETRA + Critical Communications Association are working to make the case for reserving spectrum, not just in the UK, but harmonising it across the EU.

Vaizey’s response makes it clear that they will have a tough job to convince the EU, national governments and telecommunications regulators that reserving some 700MHz spectrum is in the best interests of each country. However, they are up against the powerful mobile phone operators and television companies eager to gain more spectrum. 

See also: Sorting spectrum – the challenges allocating and managing 700MHz in the UK

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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