TCCA’s Kidner Discusses the Importance of 2015 for Public-Safety Spectrum
Monday, February 02, 2015 | Comments

With many regions yet to decide whether to safeguard spectrum for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) use, 2015 could be the last chance the mission-critical community has to ensure that political decisions continue to allow first responders’ priority access to bandwidth for mission-critical communications needs.

Phil Kidner, TETRA + Critical Communications Association (TCCA) CEO, answers questions from RadioResource International magazine on this year’s importance for PPDR spectrum in Europe and beyond.

RRI: How is TCCA preparing for the World Radio Conference (WRC) in November?

Kidner: The conference participants are the governments of the world, as well as sector members. In preparation, TCCA allocated a full-time position to this subject two years ago, when Jeppe Jepsen became director of broadband spectrum. He has been educating our membership on process and positions and has been facilitating the development of common positions around 700 MHz.

TCCA is also active in the conference preparatory activities in Europe. During the past four years, we have managed to get the spectrum needs of PPDR agencies on the radar of all institutions dealing with spectrum. As Jepsen says: “No one will be able to say they didn’t know when the disaster hits home.”

RRI: How does TCCA plan to address the conference with the need for dedicated Long Term Evolution (LTE) spectrum for PPDR users? Is the issue on the agenda?

Kidner: The issue is on the agenda under point 1.3. However, the conference will not decide for dedicated spectrum; that would be a subsequent national decision in each nation. The outcome of the conference could be a recommendation to the nations to use 700 MHz for their planned and future PPDR operations.

The decisions that will be taken at the WRC in November will impact the effectiveness of first responders, if harmonized protected spectrum is not agreed. Individual governments will subsequently have to decide for or against dedicated LTE spectrum or solutions for mission-critical communications.

RRI: What other groups are TCCA working with, and how will their efforts be incorporated?

Kidner: TCCA has great support from Public Safety Communications (PSC)-Europe, European Emergency Number Association (EENA 1-1-2), Red Cross EU and the Federation of the European Union (FEU) Fire Officer Associations. There is also strong alignment with official bodies such as the law enforcement working group of the European Council. We are all in consensus to drive for harmonized broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band and then dedicated at national levels.

RRI: How likely is it that PPDR will receive a spectrum recommendation at the conference?

Kidner: The conference will not allocate spectrum; that is a national decision afterward. The conference can ensure harmonization and thereby enable interoperability, cross-border collaboration and economies of scale for the PPDR agencies. Allocation of dedicated spectrum at the national level is one of only two options the national regulators have at their disposal. It is either that or implementation of special regulation that would force commercial operators to meet all the needs of the emergency services. Needless to say that would be a serious instrument to use in a successful liberalized marketplace.

RRI: What developments have been made on public-safety LTE standards?

Kidner: The TCCA is delighted to see the formation of the new SA6 working group in the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This is a good sign that the wider LTE community is prepared to take critical communications requirements seriously. SA6 will consolidate user needs, requirements and address questions relating to the standard, and the TCCA is working closely with SA6 through the TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group (CCBG).

The next CCBG plenary will be co-located with the 3GPP SA6 in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) 24 February. The standardization, spectrum, operational development, and product and applications development go hand in hand with the creation of interoperable, multivendor critical broadband market that will deliver the needs of PPDR and other critical communications users.

Steady advances with the LTE standard mean the technology looks likely to be ready to support hybrid critical communications networks during the course of the next decade. Hybrid networks include a combination of TETRA voice and LTE data using private and commercial networks. This is a pivotal year, when regulators decide whether the emergency services should continue to have the ability for uninterrupted communications during major incidents once the LTE standard is ready to support mission-critical applications.

RRI: Are there new developments with the U.K. Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), which is a tender to replace the U.K. TETRA network?

Kidner: The U.K. ESMCP program is being followed closely by many organizations but it is worth noting that the United Kingdom is the only government in Europe that is proposing to replace its TETRA network with voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). We understand that all other countries considering taking advantage of LTE will use this technology to supplement their existing voice networks with broadband data. Indeed, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands are in the process of replacing their existing public-safety TETRA networks with new TETRA networks.

Although work to develop the LTE standard to support mission-critical users is progressing steadily with the creation of the new dedicated SA6 working group within 3GPP, the global TETRA user base continues to grow. Market research firm IHS predicts a 7-percent increase in TETRA users globally by 2018.

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