The TETRA and Critical Communications Association (TCCA) is spearheading a campaign to ensure spectrum across Europe is guaranteed for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) use.
The TCCA, which represents the interests of public and private users, operators and manufacturers of mission critical communication services, argues this is a necessary step given that broadband data services over LTE are set to become critical to the effectiveness of the emergency services in the next few years.
For PPDR responders and their organisations, as well as network operators, and the people of Europe that their services protect, it is essential that governments directly control enough spectrum to ensure effective and uninterrupted PPDR communication services, particularly during major incidents.
With critical data features currently being incorporated into the LTE standards, LTE networks could be carrying critical broadband data within five years. However, without sufficient spectrum, these mission-critical services will be rendered ineffective if they have to compete for bandwidth with smartphone-led consumer applications.
There is a narrowing window of opportunity to inform governments and regulators, who will take the decision on spectrum allocation at the World Radiocommunications Conference next year.
Currently, PPDR communications have dedicated spectrum for voice and some data services. The value of this has been proven time and time again when PPDR networks remain fully operational during crisis situations, while commercial mobile networks become overloaded or even cease to function.
Mission critical data communications need to be secure, reliable and available. The PPDR organisations cannot afford the risk of failures in their individual or group communications. In addition, there are an increasing number of data solutions coming to market that need sufficient spectrum to ensure the best possible PPDR service to society.
Some suggest that dedicating spectrum to PPDR can result in that spectrum being underutilised. This does not have to be the case. Spectrum sharing arrangements can ensure optimum use of spectrum but, ultimately, PPDR and other critical communications users need guaranteed access to spectrum in order to evolve their essential service to the citizens of Europe.
The 700MHz band for public safety broadband
EU member states, in cooperation with the Commission, are in preparation for the ITU World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 to identify a single spectrum environment for Broadband Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) services and to define conditions for taking the 700MHz band to mobile use, including conditions for PPDR use of the band.
The TCCA recommends that a sufficient amount of 700MHz frequency resources shall be made available for these mission critical communication services.
WIK-Consult has produced a discussion paper entitled The need for PPDR Broadband Spectrum in the bands below 1 GHZ.
The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has produced two papers:
- Socioeconomic Value of Mission Critical Mobile Applications for Public Safety in the EU:2x10MHz in 700MHz in 10 European Countries.
- Socioeconomic Value of Mission Critical Mobile Applications for Public Safety in the UK: 2x10MHz in 700MHz.
These papers and other supporting information can be found here
What is mission critical communication?
Mission critical communication is supplied by special communications systems where the reliability, availability, stability and security of mobile communication is vital to ensure continuous availability of functions critical for society.
Typical users of mission critical communication are law enforcement and emergency services for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) operations, including fire and rescue and emergency medical services.
Mission critical communications include communication hardware, software, as well as radio frequency band (spectrum) capacity to transmit and share information between field units and command centres.
Current status of public safety mobile communications
Traditionally, emergency services throughout Europe use a part of the 380-400MHz spectrum for voice and limited narrowband data communications.
Emergency services have an increasing demand for access to mobile broadband data services for their PPDR operations. The establishment of mission critical mobile broadband data services ideally requires a frequency band located below 1 GHz. An opportunity is opening at 700MHz.
This band is today inter alia used by terrestrial broadcasting services, but is expected to be be shared or ultimately fully re-allocated to mobile service at the World Radiocommunications Conference in November 2015 (WRC-15).
The immediate beneficiaries are likely to be private mobile operators who offer commercial mobile broadband services to the public. However, a specific agenda item of the WRC-15 is dedicated to the agreement of a Resolution, which adds one or more frequency bands for mobile broadband PPDR services throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The TCCA believes that it is of the utmost importance for the European PPDR community that a European Common Position on this agenda item incorporates the 700MHz band for Broadband PPDR.
The PPDR community, through the EU Council’s Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP) has worked jointly with the spectrum regulator community (CEPT-ECC) and concluded in an ECC Report that a minimum of 2 x 10MHz spectrum is required for mobile Broadband data services, with additional spectrum required to implement voice services, Air Ground Air, Direct Mode Operation and ad hoc networks.
UK Government’s position on spectrum for PPDR
It should be noted that the UK Government has made clear its position on 700MHz via the UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom. Addressing a British APCO event on 12 November 2013, Peter Bury, Director in Spectrum Policy Group at Ofcom, said: ‘Our aim, as agreed by all parts of the UK Government, is to retain as much flexibility as possible in the band plan adopted for 700MHz and to leave it to each country to decide whether or not to dedicate a sub-band for ES.’
He summarised the UK Government’s current position as: ‘Support the inclusion of PPDR (Public Protection & Disaster Relief) services in the 700MHz band in as flexible a manner as possible without the need for an internationally mandated and exclusive allocation for PPDR.’
In short the UK Government does not want to be told it must put aside spectrum for PPDR, but it has not ruled out doing so on a voluntary basis.