Australian Government Agrees on 800 MHz Spectrum for Public-Safety Broadband Network
Tuesday, December 11, 2012 | Comments
By Geoff Spring
During recent weeks the Australian government announced key decisions that will determine the strategic direction for public-safety communications used by Australia’s public-safety agencies (PSAs). Underpinning the announcements from three different sources is agreement in principle from Australian ministers for police and emergency management to commit to a nationally interoperable mobile broadband capability for Australia’s PSAs and endorsement of a national broadband implementation plan.
The announcements build on the advice provided in Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Australasia’s public-safety bulletin No. 16 that said the development of a national interoperable public-safety mobile broadband network was on track and gave further details critical to spectrum, pricing, interoperability, narrowband mission-critical voice, Long Term Evolution (LTE) capability and international recognition of 4.9 GHz as a public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) spectrum band.
On 29 and 30 October, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Australian spectrum regulator, allocated an additional 60 megahertz of spectrum across a number of bands to facilitate the deployment of high-speed, nationally interoperable mobile broadband networks for use by Australia’s PSAs in conjunction with the proposed public-safety broadband network.
The ACMA announcement advised that it was undertaking a number of initiatives to improve spectrum provisions for public safety, the most important being:
• Making available10 megahertz of 800 MHz spectrum to realize a dedicated nationally interoperable public-safety mobile broadband 4G data capability, which supports the 4G LTE system and is considered to be “beach front” spectrum by carriers and PSAs. The precise 800 MHz frequencies to be provided will be determined after the ACMA’s full review of the 803 – 960 MHz band.
• Providing 50 megahertz from the 4.9 GHz band for use nationwide by PSAs. The 4.9 GHz spectrum is recognized internationally as a PPDR band and is capable of high capacity, short range, deployable data and video communications including supplementary capacity for the public-safety broadband network in areas of very high demand. The ACMA released a consultation paper on the issue.
• The continuation of implementing critical reforms in the 400 MHz band, where spectrum has been identified for the exclusive use of government, primarily to support national security, law enforcement and emergency services.
The additional spectrum will meet two specific needs identified by Australia’s PSAs — the need for wide-ranging 4G coverage, together with very high capacity, short range coverage for specific incidents and in high demand areas, the ACMA said. The ACMA has “provided PSAs with the opportunity to create a deep and layered capability, based on them building efficient 4G LTE networks,” said the ACMA chairman.
The allocation of 10 megahertz (5 x 5 megahertz) of mission-capable spectrum in the 800 MHz band does not meet the original PSAs request of 10 x 10 megahertz, but the need for that much spectrum was based on “rarely occurring events and disasters,” the chairman said. “These scenarios are fully addressed by the ACMA’s integrated 85 megahertz solution. This solution is built around the above-mentioned 5 x 5 megahertz allocation which, in the ACMA’s view, is more than sufficient, scalable and strong.”
On 22 November, the Australian Attorney General and Minister for Emergency Management, Hon. Nicola Roxon MP, tabled the commonwealth government’s response to the Environment and Communications References Committee Report that dealt with the capacity of communications networks and emergency warning systems. It was also tabled in the Australian Parliament almost a year earlier.
The government supported the committee’s recommendation that “interoperability of narrowband voice radio communications between federal, state and territory emergency service organizations is achieved as soon as practicable and that all services attending major incidents be compelled to maintain a common emergency communications platform to ensure seamless real-time communication from and to the incident controllers.”
The government referred to the ACMA spectrum announcement in response to the committee’s recommendations that the government allocate sufficient spectrum for dedicated broadband PPDR radio communications in Australia, and that any allocation of broadband spectrum for PPDR must be interoperable among Australian PSAs and with their counterparts overseas.
Importantly, the government’s response noted that the spectrum offered to Australia’s states and territories will be at a public interest price and is conditional on factors including:
• The capability being nationally interoperable;
• The states and territories funding all costs associated with designing, building, equipping, maintaining and operating the capability, and;
• An agreement to provide reasonable access to state and territory networks by relevant commonwealth agencies.
The government’s response also referenced the matter of interoperability with Australia’s PSA counterparts overseas being guided by the domestic approaches that those countries take, as well as future outcomes of regional radio harmonization in Region 3, the Asia/Pacific region in which Australia is located.
The public-safety mobile broadband network steering committee reported to the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM), which comprises Australian and New Zealand ministers for police and emergency management 23 November.
A communiqué that was issued following the SCPEM meeting said: “The ministers agreed in principle to commit to a nationally interoperable mobile broadband capability for public-safety agencies and endorsed a national implementation plan. Ministers also agreed to align jurisdictional-specific public-safety mobile broadband network planning with national interoperability principles. The successful delivery of this initiative will provide Australia’s police and emergency service agencies with a robust capability that can be critically relied upon during natural disasters and other emergencies.”
The Australian government and the ACMA announcements emphasized that the decisions taken were developed in conjunction with PSAs through the PSMBN steering committee and identified public-safety mobile communications needs using evidence-informed analysis and developed models to meet those needs. The information assisted the ACMA in its determination of PSA spectrum requirements, and the government worked with Australian states and territories to develop a national implementation plan for a nationally interoperable public-safety mobile broadband capability.
The decisions announced by the Australian government and the ACMA set the strategic direction for public-safety communications and raised the importance of PSAs globally, taking note of decisions being considered by the United Nations (UN) International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radio Conference, and for Australia and countries in ITU Region 3, the spectrum plan being promoted by the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT).
APCO Australasia requested that the ACMA release the evidence-based studies that informed these decisions to be added to the growing body of global knowledge of how broadband and technologies such as LTE can be effectively used by PSAs in providing their services to the communities they protect.
APCO Australasia’s annual conference and exhibition will be held in Adelaide, Australia, in March and will seek to further explore the impact of the decisions announced.

Geoff Spring is the executive chairman of APCO Australasia and former chairman of the APCO Global Alliance. Spring has been director – strategic planning and area coordination for the Country Fire Authority in Victoria, Australia, for 10 years. He is a former member of the Emergency Services Organizations Advisory Committee to the board of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) and a member of the Victorian Spatial Council. Email comments to
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