European Community Eyes Public-Safety Broadband Spectrum Allocation in 2015
Wednesday, June 05, 2013 | Comments

Adrian Scrase, ETSI CTO

By Sandra Wendelken, Editor

The European community has a plan to lobby for public-safety communications spectrum in the 400 or 700 MHz bands, albeit not a quick one.

Officials from the European spectrum community said the World Radio Conference (WRC) in November 2015 is its best and unique chance to get a dedicated spectrum allocation for Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployments for public safety. While work moves forward on standards for public-safety features for LTE, parallel work is going on with spectrum harmonization. The best-case scenario will see the two efforts converge at about the same time.

Two recent, separate reports address the issue of broadband spectrum in Europe for public-safety communications networks. The first report is from the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) Electronic Communications Committee’s Working Group Frequency Management (WGFM). The ECC Report 199 concludes that 2 by 10 megahertz of spectrum is needed for future European public protection disaster response (PPDR) wide-area networks. In addition, two candidate bands, 400 – 470 MHz and 694 – 790 MHz, are being investigated for PPDR spectrum.

A more global view was taken in a report from the Global Standards Collaboration (GSC) Emergency Communications Task Force. The report looked at standards for a globally coordinated approach for emergency communications before, during and after a disaster.

Many global standards development organizations (SDOs) participated, including the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), two Japanese standards bodies, two U.S. groups, and standards organizations from Canada, China and South Korea.

Adrian Scrase, ETSI chief technology officer (CTO), said dedicated public-safety spectrum is being considered in Europe. “The discussion is ongoing for requirements for public safety, direct mode operation (DMO) and group calls,” he said.

“The World Radio Conference (WRC) in November 2015 is a unique opportunity to have PPDR requirements for dedicated broadband spectrum incorporated into the WRC decision,” said Jeppe Jepsen, director of broadband spectrum and board member of the TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA).

Public-safety broadband spectrum in Europe was a hot topic at the Critical Communications World (CCW) conference hosted by TCCA in May in Paris.

“PPDR is on the agenda of the WRC,” said Jepsen during a CCW panel discussion. “It is a political question, and TCCA has initiated a campaign to convince decision makers. We are working on economic white papers to bring out the benefits for public safety.”

In fact, highlighting the economic benefits of spectrum for public safety is a major point of the European discussion with regulators. Tom Quirke, vice president and general manager, global TETRA organization, Motorola Solutions, said its research showed that for every $1 spent on public-safety communications equipment, $5 of economic benefit is gained.

Officials are also highlighting the need and benefit for public-safety officials. Hans Borgonjen, senior coordinator international standardization, Vts Police Netherlands, is working on an applications matrix expected to be the “bible for frequency debates.” The matrix includes numerous scenarios for when broadband could be a critical tool, and the matrix will be included in documents for governmental officials on why the spectrum is needed.

The issue of whether commercial networks can fulfill public-safety needs is being debated as well. “We were a user of other providers’ networks for many years,” said Brigidier Ali Henzab, director of the telecoms department, Qatar Ministry of Interior (MOI). “To do our job, we need to have our own system because of resilience and redundancy. Commercial LTE won’t do the job. That’s why we decided to have our own public-safety LTE and it’s launched and it’s operational, but it still needs enhancements.”

Gilles Bregant, director general, Agence Nationale des Frequences, said the industry must come together on several points to achieve its objective. First, which frequency band, 400 or 700 MHz, is best?

Next is the issue of LTE’s 10-megahertz duplex requirement. “LTE works better with 10-megahertz channels,” he said. “How can we find 10 megahertz in both bands, uplink and downlink? We must explain where you can get it or if you can make do without 10 megahertz.”

Finally, is it possible to have the spectrum harmonized in Europe? “We must find a migration path that is realistic,” Bregant said.

If the November 2015 timeline seems far off, it may coincide with LTE standard products with public-safety features, although not mission-critical voice. Two public-safety features, direct mode and group communications, are slated to be in Release 12 of LTE, scheduled to be finalized in 2014 with commercial products to follow in 2015 at the earliest.

Many attendees agreed that similar to the iPad, which consumers didn’t realize they needed until they had it, public-safety devices and applications will drive uptake. “There’s no reason why broadband won’t revolutionize public safety just as it did commercial broadband,” said Balazs Bertenyi, chairman of the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Service and System Aspects (SA). “You just have to enable it, and the rest will happen.”

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