The case for dedicated public safety spectrum

Adrian GrilliAnil ShuklaIan ReadheadTony GraySue Lampard
David Chater LeaPhil KidnerJeppe JensenEuros EvansJames Atkinson


Sponsored by Wireless

High-quality mobile broadband data services are now widely available, but if the mission-critical needs of the public safety community and business-critical needs of industries are to be met, dedicated spectrum needs to be found.

But how can the emergency services and other industry verticals make the case for dedicated spectrum?

Wireless teamed up with Motorola Solutions, the TETRA + Critical Communications Association and British APCO to host a round table discussion to debate how to make a compelling case for dedicated spectrum 

James Atkinson: There’s a vast amount of data being consumed by enterprise and the public safety sector. There’s also a great deal of technology out there to help them meet their business-critical needs for high-quality broadband. Do people think we need extra dedicated spectrum to deliver that?

Euros Evans: Yes, dedicated spectrum is necessary because I don’t believe you can deliver the kind of mission-critical services needed without having dedicated spectrum. I prefer to think of it as delivering the next generation capability as opposed to broadband. So it is about more data.

Jeppe Jepsen: Yes, dedicated spectrum is needed for mission-critical needs. The whole community around professional communication needs to find a common position for it to happen. We are a very small society in the very big civil world and we need to be united to have a strong case to put to the spectrum managers. At the end of the day, this is a political decision.

Dr Anil Shukla: One of things we’ve been looking at are the new types of scenarios where dynamic spectrum can be applied. One of them is the provision of communications for disaster relief. The world is moving away from having dedicated pipes for single applications. So we need to look at how we can get the spectrum we want and when exactly we need it. We need to make it more widely available so that nobody else can have it. We need to be using cognitive radio technologies to give us the capabilities we need in the timeframe we need them.

Phil Kidner: We deliver through TETRA around the world to public safety sectors. There isn’t enough spectrum today to do everything that our current users require. Public safety users are probably the most efficient consumers of spectrum, yet they are struggling to do their present operations. More spectrum is the key to the ongoing success of operations in all our sectors.

David Chater-Lea: I’m looking at the technologies that will come to bear for future broadband solutions. I’m looking at how TETRA will standardise high-speed data and we’re looking at broadband, too. To get spectrum for the sort of new services that the community is demanding, it will be essential to have some degree of dedicated spectrum set aside. I believe the cognitive spectrum that Dr Shukla has just mentioned could indeed be part of the solution. There is likely to be a core of broadband spectrum for this type of community.

If the access mechanisms are available at the moment you need them, we believe strongly that there is a need for dedicated spectrum. We also believe that the spectrum allocation needs to be harmonised. We are a very small community. The TETRA industry has sold something in the order of three million handsets as opposed to some five billion active GSM subscriptions. Unless the spectrum is harmonised, the market will become so small and so fragmented that solutions – if they come – could be expensive or proprietary or not arrive at all. So, harmonisation is the key word here.

Sue Lampard: Yes, spectrum is needed and we are pushing for it. I think the public safety services are always behind the times as far as the technologies that could be made available are concerned, and we don’t get the best use out of our technology. The best we can get would be what we want, but we’ve got to offset it against the cost – and that, I believe, is going to be one of the biggest challenges.

Tony Gray: I’d like to broaden the discussion slightly by saying that rather than just dedicated spectrum, I think we need dedicated solutions. We don’t currently run public safety communications in the voice sense over public networks for reasons such as resilience, availability at the critical point, quality of service (QoS) and so on. All of those point us towards needing a dedicated solution in a broadband sense and maybe that needs dedicated spectrum or perhaps there are other solutions.

Ian Readhead: The debate for the future strategic requirements of the emergency services is quite simple. We will require a proven dedicated spectrum that can deal with the volumetrics of a voice-centric, mission-critical environment. To meet the clear needs we recently saw in London [the August 2011 riots], for example. Around 16,000 police officers were put into one place and the system proved it could work in that environment.

It will happen again, and it’s just that people have forgotten the requirements - say from the time of the miners’ dispute - when you brought resources from all across the country in order to sustain law and order and to arrest offenders. That future system has got to have all the features that currently exist in the TETRA environment for confidentiality, in-building coverage, and an enriched environment in dedicated spectrum.

The reality is that there is high level expectation that we will provide information-rich data in a mobile environment to individuals across the emergency services so they can make informed decisions. The communities out there are entirely different now. It’s not a UK-wide community any more that we police, it might be a Polish community. So, we must ensure that we are giving our staff and the other emergency services the right kind of information to have a chance of fulfilling our obligations. A future system builds upon the significant investment already made for mobile capabilities today. So sharpen your pencils, because there is not the amount of money available to procure those solutions. You have to have an eye on value for money at every stage.

Adrian Grilli: We are the spectrum managers for the gas and electricity industries. We manage inspections – some in VHF, some in UHF – and assist those industries with their radio communications. Utilities were actually the second adopter of mobile radio after the police in the US. Historically, we’ve always seen communications as vital and across Europe all the utilities are facing the same challenges. We’ve got the green agenda, we’ve got security of supply, we’ve got affordability, and that can only be delivered by using more advanced ICT solutions.

I’m also chairman of the Federation of Communications Services’ (FCS) critical national infrastructure group, which is working to promote our common interests. If you look at the agenda for Digital Britain, all the politicians tell us that mobile data and mobile broadband are going to radically change the world in which we live. So you have to say to the spectrum regulators – great, we agree with that, but do you want your critical services to lag behind? Do you want us to keep your citizens happy?

When we are talking about public safety spectrum, you have to think – what does public safety mean? Utilities were part of the original TETRA network. As it migrates, suddenly utilities are allowed to be part of the network. Once bitten, twice shy – having been down the pathway of working in a cohesive environment with everybody, who is going to be able to access whatever spectrum is made available? Do we need dedicated spectrum? Because if we think we do, then we’ve got to make our case. I think we can make a compelling case – we’ve got requirements which the public network operators would struggle to meet. Those operators would love our business - especially if you look at our telemetry and control, which is a 24/7 requirement.

But if we say: ‘No, we want this to be a private network’, we have to say why we don’t think they can deliver. They are keen to sell you what they can do and ignore bits they can’t do. We’ve got to recognise the environment in which we operate and ensure our case to regulators is a compelling one.

James Atkinson: I recently had a chat with Mark Swarbrick – head of UK spectrum policy at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills – and he claimed that not one public utility has come through his door and said: ‘I need dedicated spectrum.’ There’s obviously some work to be done here. How do we get this bigger voice?

Adrian Grilli: We are working on a socio-economic case for spectrum for utilities. The data that we’ve got has come from US power. There’s lots of valuable data from there. The classic instance is when power goes off. So, the supplier gets hit by the regulator for a certain amount of money. The problem is that at some times of the day it doesn’t matter. If it’s a Sunday morning, for example, it doesn’t have a great deal of impact. However, if it’s 8.30am on a Monday, then it’s the trigger point at which they evacuate the London Underground. So the regulator asks: ‘Why don’t you have a standby generator?’ We say: ‘We do, but the pertinent staff are stuck on the Tube.’

Then there’s the security aspects such as cyber security (people hacking our system). We also suffer from metal theft and we cannot supervise the hundreds of thousands of places where we’ve got metal. If we can use CCTV, however, we can actually see what’s going on. We’ve got a power station in Wales but we can’t put any more wires into the mountain.

A commercial system doesn’t have life cycles that we can use. We also need coverage in areas such as nuclear power and reservoirs where people don’t live. The time we really need communications is when the power fails. We’re working towards resilient types of network because we need 72 hours of backup. But if you talk to a commercial network about 72 hours backup and ask them to demonstrate it, what happens?  We say: ‘Can we pull the plug for six hours and test the redundancy?’ No? So that’s why microwave is having a renaissance. You can prove that it has redundancy, but as soon as you go into a commercial environment, then you struggle. That’s why we need our dedicated networks.

Dr Anil Shukla: You need to go back and talk to people from a visionary perspective. How can we make it economically viable? How big a market can you create? What’s meant by public spectrum? Who is allowed to use it? The market needs to be as big as possible. Do you wait for harmonisation to occur or do you do it now and hope harmonisation comes along? It can prove a thankless task doing this. With GSM there’s an inherent roaming capability and that’s how I see cognitive radio working. If you give people a pipe, they will find a way to use it.

Jeppe Jepsen: You can look at spectrum as just another resource. If we decide that public security services don’t have broadband spectrum, then they won’t be able to deliver QoS. If we accept as a consequence QoS will be lowered, how many lives can we accept losing? What kind of people will be applying for jobs with the police, fire and ambulance services? If they are used to mobile data, iPads and the like then there’s an imbalance between public duty and civil life.

Ian Readhead: In 37 years I’ve never delivered leading-edge technology to my staff. You have to manage expectations. Much of what we do is in a confidential environment. It causes complexity because staff can’t use a BlackBerry or an iPad as it erodes all of the principles that we have to comply with. Technology moves remarkably quickly and we have to choose our moment in time that meets that mission-critical information requirement.

I’m not so sure that video is the most mission-critical requirement. Instead, it may be around a mobile fingerprint capability. Much of this is form filling that has an impact on the spectrum required. We still need to sustain the voice-centric capability that is provided by TETRA.

I’ll be candid and say TETRA will be here for a number of years to come. There are some elements of the work we are doing which also need to be thought through: air and water, for example. But we’re not going to provide that breadth of coverage in areas where there’s just sheep because of the purse strings. It really incensed me when the Government talked about public services having to bid for spectrum.

It is the responsibility of the Government to protect the people and to provide the right level of spectrum so that the emergency services can do their job. It’s an abdication of responsibility to expect us to bid. That is nothing more than money laundering. The Government needs to recognise its responsibilities and take the high ground to ensure it provides the spectrum we need so we can all do our jobs.

Euros Evans: Cost is an important consideration, not just of spectrum but the solution in total. For that reason, we will be driven down a path with voice services (of the type described today) being available on a single network. That’s fundamental. If you believe that, then it will involve a huge amount of business change because the business processes will have to change too. It’s harder than the technology choice. I think some of this will happen by stealth. Public safety users will get hold of Apple devices, BlackBerrys and Google Maps. I dread to think that something will happen where you can’t access such services, but it has changed the way people think. So I believe this will be part of the business case.

We do need an EU macro business case. I’ve been to see Mark Swarbrick too and he asks: ‘Where’s your business case?’ I think it’s not about video, but more about individual bits of data. There is no silver bullet and it’s hard to pinpoint the user benefits. That’s why nobody’s answered the question so far.

James Atkinson: How do we create a larger voice for our community? Do we need a single body, perhaps? What are the key practical steps we need to take towards getting dedicated spectrum?

Adrian Grilli: When we talk to the regulators, they don’t seem to appreciate that the whole community has been discussing the different requirements across the whole public safety arena. The fact that we talk to each other needs to be made clear. We have to be bold in making our case, stressing what the public benefits are. The citizens of the European Union would be appalled at how poor the provision of communications is to these critical public safety services.

Ian Readhead: Speaking with one voice, I think, is an absolute necessity. Creating the coherence for that is going to be quite challenging, because it is quite a diverse community. The more we get together, the more we see there is consistency. I think it needs one lead authority to bring it all together under one roof and through that make representations to the Government. You have to bring it all together, and that way you will provide a prioritised and functional requirement that can be understood by the Government. Who that body should be, I’m not sure. It’s quite clear that you need to do it through a co-operative arrangement. We have a lot more consistency between us than we have differences. There are no wide chasms here. Most of us have the same view.

Tony Gray: I agree that a single voice is the key requirement in the short-term. That maybe one reason behind the change of name for the body which is now known as the TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA) - so that it embraces all of these other critical requirements. The TCCA – which has gone through this exact same pain of finding spectrum for TETRA harmonised across the whole of Europe – could be the appropriate body to lead that single unified voice.

It will be quite difficult to pull this all together but it will be down to those of us who have a stake in this to collaborate and find that single voice. Then what are the next key steps? If we come up with a single voice and demand new spectrum, then we go to the regulators and say: ‘Why?’ We could say we want all this spectrum so we can build new networks, or it’s for video from the scene of an incident. So building a cogent, persuasive value proposition for why you need the spectrum is going to be absolutely fundamental.

Sue Lampard: I totally agree. It’s a question of who brings it all together – from the Cabinet Office right down to the fire and rescue services. It’s a really complicated world. I think that dedicated spectrum will come out of that. It’s very clear where we are going and who’s going to need it. From a police perspective, those negotiations have already started. I don’t know the timescales but I wouldn’t want us to end up with a system that is built for the here and now but doesn’t actually give us flexibility in the future.

David Chater-Lea: At the micro level, the next step is to carry on the process that we’ve started already, which is to gather together the requirement. We then need to turn that into facts and figures because the regulators need to know what the value is going to be for the country.

Our next challenge is that we’re starting with the TCCA, but we need to expand this to cover other industries such as the transport industry. We need to put together a case for a critical national infrastructure type of network. The other problem here is that we are dealing with harmonisation of spectrum on a European level.

However, spectrum is regulated on a national level. We need to focus at the two levels. We need to gather the case across all of the industries involved, not just public safety. We need to focus at all levels to influence the local regulators.

Dr Anil Shukla: We need dedicated spectrum for national resilience because it gives us a completely independent infrastructure from civil infrastructures. I think that cognitive radios have a role in increasing the size of the market that can access that protected spectrum. You can control exactly who has access at any one time. What we need to do next is to develop that value proposition on a national and European level. We should tie this into a cyber security strategy. It is time to develop a new UK/EU strategy document that talks about critical comms, and spectrum is part of that.

Jeppe Jepsen: To me, spectrum is the difference between having a government operating on the internet and a government operating on an intranet. Who carries out our business on the internet today? This is what spectrum is all about. If we don’t get a wireless intranet, we are left with a wireless internet. We have to prove to the various ministries of finances that it has a value. How do you calculate the value of a life? Is it better value to let an old man drown and rescue a young man? Is that how we want to have a business case for public safety in the future? Because business case wise it is definitely better to let the old man die in the cold water.

Euros Evans: At a European level, the new TETRA + Critical Communications Association should be the focus. I think they’ve made a huge amount of progress. On a more local, country level we need to be doing more work on a business case. It’s difficult but we should be trying to progress it across all of the emergency services. Lastly, we should be doing some work on standards bodies now. I don’t think we can do these things sequentially. We know it is going to take time to get the dedicated spectrum, so we need to make some assumptions. Otherwise we will miss another two or three generations of technology.

James Atkinson: To sum up, the creation of a single voice is vital. Finding some organisation to lead that is crucial, too. Creating a compelling value proposition in the language that the people you’re making the case to understand is also necessary. Plus, keeping the pressure on at both the national and EU level is going to be key.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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