UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has issued a Call for Inputs as part of its strategic review of the 420-470MHz band, also known as UHF bands 1 (420-450MHz) and 2 (450-470MHz).
The band is of crucial importance in the UK as it is the key spectrum used by thousands of different enterprises and other organisations for business radio purposes. However, panning in the band is complex due to fragmented use patterns and configuration issues.
The purpose behind Ofcom’s review is to explain how the current uses and configuration of this band brings about challenges for its efficient management, with particular implications for managing congestion, future competing demand, and interference.
The Call for Input document invites comments from stakeholders on Aegis’s findings, as well as other input which stakeholders consider relevant to Ofcom’s analysis of the 420-470 MHz band, including its proposed work programme for the next phase of its strategic review.
The issue in the UK is that the pattern of use of the 420-470 MHz band is particularly complex and its current configuration is not fully aligned with the relevant European configuration plan.
The Federation of Communications Services (FCS), which represents a wide variety of business radio users, has been lobbying hard to ensure the UHF bands are retained for business radio users and not reallocated to, for example, mobile phone services as some in Continental Europe have suggested (for more on FCS’s views, see below).
Ofcom notes in its document that it has ‘previously considered (on various occasions since 2002) the need to reorganise and rationalise the band to be consistent with Europe, but after weighing up the costs and benefits of intervening and the lack of stakeholder appetite for these changes, we concluded that it was difficult to justify taking regulatory action (though we would keep the situation under review)’.
However, Ofcom recognises that there are indications of increasing demand from some existing users of the 420-470MHz band, particularly in dense urban areas, and signs that new types of use also want to make use of these frequencies.
In addition, the risk of interference is growing from wideband and narrowband technologies deployed by the UK’s continental neighbours (which can be exacerbated in some meteorological/atmospheric conditions).
These concerns promoted Ofcom to commence a strategic review of the 420-470MHz band earlier this year. This Call for Inputs (CFI) forms part of its initial phase of work in the strategic review.
Current users of the 420-470MHz band, many of whom have requirements for business critical applications, include:
• Business radio (BR), which includes users of private mobile radio (PMR)
• The public sector, primarily from the emergency services (ES), Ministry of Defence (MoD), and Department of Health (DH)
• Programme making and special events (PMSE)
• Scanning telemetry for the utilities sector
• Maritime, including the internationally harmonised frequencies at 467-467.5 MHz
• Aeronautical, for airside ground use (also internationally harmonised at 457 MHz and 467 MHz)
• Radio amateurs
• Licence exempt (LE) devices, including short range devices (SRDs).
Business radio is the most significant civil user of the 420-470MHz band, of which professional private mobile radio (PMR) is the most common type of use. The FCS has written to its members reminding them of the importance of the UHF bands and encouraging them to contribute to the Calls for Input. Tim Cull of the FCS contacted members to say:
‘The UHF bands remain amongst the most important spectrum bands for the business radio industry. For some years, these bands have been the subject of discussion. There are many topics that remain unresolved. These include the level of congestion in UHF 2 in some metro areas, the changes to assignment criteria and although off the agenda for now, band reversal.
‘Less obvious is the assurance of long-term tenure in these bands. We currently have a good situation regarding UK policy in UHF 2 but the fact that it remains identified for IMT2000, means that band is permanently under threat of re-purposing to other uses resulting from international agreements.
‘Ofcom have now issued the Call for Input on the UHF bands. At its core, this document seeks to establish the benefits to the UK of keeping the UHF bands allocated to PMR. It is thus extremely important that the FCS response is substantive and convincing.’
The closing date for responses is 19 February 2015.