WRC-15 recommends reserving spectrum for public safety broadband

World Radiocommunication Conference delivers first recommendation in the history of the ITU-R for a global harmonised spectrum range for mobile broadband services to support the Public Safety and Emergency Services

WRC-15 recommends reserving spectrum for public safety broadband

The critical communications community has welcomed a decision taken at the 2015 World Radiocommuniction Conference (WRC-15) to recommend reserving spectrum for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR). The move is unprecedented for the ITU-R, which runs the WRC.

The increasing need for harmonised frequency ranges for PPDR communications has been recognised in a highly significant resolution agreed by the 196 nations participating in the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference concluding this week in Geneva.

Harmonised spectrum for critical communications enhances interoperability and cost effective cross-border collaboration, resulting in more effective response during disasters and major events.

The WRC 2015 Resolution 646 takes into consideration ‘the growing telecommunication and radiocommunication needs of public protection agencies and organisations, including those dealing with emergency situations and disaster relief, that are vital to the maintenance of law and order, protection of life and property, disaster relief and emergency response.’

The Resolution 646, which is an international agreement under UN/ITU, encourages administrations to use harmonised frequency ranges for PPDR to the maximum extent possible, and to consider the frequency range 694-894 MHz when undertaking national planning for PPDR applications, highlighting broadband in particular.

This underlines that although narrowband and wideband systems will continue to be used to meet PPDR requirements, there is a growing need for broadband applications to support improved data and multimedia capabilities. These require higher data rates and higher capacity, and appropriate spectrum from this harmonised range may need to be made available on a national basis.

The WRC Resolution 646 recognises that many administrations wish to promote interoperability and interworking between communications systems used for PPDR, both nationally and for cross-border operations in emergency situations and for disaster relief.

Clearly defined frequency ranges enable improved spectrum management and planning. Harmonised spectrum increases the potential for interoperability and standardisation of equipment. The resulting economies of scale in terms of research, development and manufacturing lead to a more cost-efficient and competitive market.

“In today’s world, the need for cross-border cooperation among PPDR agencies has never been more apparent,” said Phil Kidner, CEO of the critical communications sector’s representative organisation the TCCA (TETRA + Critical Communications Association).

“Many, many organisations responsible for delivering and supporting PPDR emergency response have been working for several years to secure harmonised spectrum for critical broadband applications. We would like to thank the spectrum regulators of the world for this Resolution – it is a treaty between the 196 UN countries and therefore a very important global step,” said Kidner.

The Resolution 646 is a significant first step and efforts on both regional and national levels are needed to reach the objective – internationally harmonised spectrum is dedicated at national level. Several countries have allocated spectrum already, including Australia, Canada, France, Korea and the USA. Each of those took the decision as direct result of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, and all are in alignment with this Resolution.

For Europe, the next step is for the CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations), which represents 48 European countries, to complete the ongoing work and reach an ECC Decision. The CEPT decision is expected in the first half of 2016.

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that sufficient spectrum is made available under harmonised conditions.

It will be interesting to see the UK Government’s response, especially in the light of the recent attacks in Paris and the French government’s call for wider co-operation between states in the fight against terrorism – where cross border communications could prove vital.

The UK’s stance to date has been to oppose any mandatory reserving of spectrum for any purpose, including public safety, from the EU, as it believes it should have the right to auction any spectrum as it pleases.

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