Europe Considers Flexible Harmonization for Mission-Critical LTE Spectrum
By Thomas Weber
Friday, November 13, 2015 | Comments
The public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) community and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) have been working for a number of years to advance the migration toward broadband radio capacity for broadband PPDR (BB-PPDR) services. As its campaign nears its conclusion, supporting broadband application coverage from large events — especially the scene of major accidents — could soon become a reality.

The PPDR user community determined that BB-PPDR, from a technical standpoint, wants to be part of the global Long Term Evolution (LTE) ecosystem. Users said this would offer several advantages, including a wider choice of terminals and potentially lower equipment prices such as lower costs for chipsets and duplex filters. It could also benefit roaming onto commercial networks, whereby end-user radio terminal equipment can obtain mobile communications services under the coverage of the visited radio communications network.

Work on developing the LTE technology to support BB-PPDR-specific functionalities has already started in international standardization organizations. Support has come from the mobile industry, and PPDR stakeholders have also been involved. However, it is expected to take several years before key features and facilities identified by the PPDR community are fully specified, implemented, tested and integrated into LTE solutions.

European countries are increasingly experiencing the need to give and receive PPDR assistance in areas such as international crime and trafficking, near-border accidents, natural disasters and terror attacks.

Different national choices within CEPT will require — within an implementable tuning range — multiple-band BB-PPDR user equipment. Such equipment can be used in either dedicated, commercial or hybrid LTE-based networks. The required level of interoperability will be realized on multiple layers through the availability of multiple-band PPDR user equipment, the adoption of common technical standards using different PPDR network types, and by standard conformance and interoperability specifications.

Within CEPT, the new ECC Report 218 on the “harmonized conditions and spectrum bands for the implementation of future European broadband PPDR systems” has been published. This is an important step toward a CEPT harmonization measure on spectrum for BB-PPDR. The Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) will likely approve it in 2016.

The report proposes the concept of “flexible harmonization” to enable an efficient implementation of BB-PPDR within CEPT. This includes three major elements:

• A common technical standard (i.e. LTE and its evolutions);
• National flexibility to decide how much spectrum and which specific frequency ranges should be designated for BB-PPDR networks within harmonized tuning range(s), according to national needs;
• National choice of the most suitable implementation model (either a dedicated, commercial or hybrid BB-PPDR network solution).

Based on the above, it is not necessary to designate a single frequency band for BB-PPDR in Europe.

ECC Report 218 is complementary to ECC Report 199 on “user requirements and spectrum needs for future European broadband PPDR systems (wide-area networks),” approved in May 2013. That report calculates a capacity need of 2 by 10 megahertz for BB-PPDR spectrum.

Conclusions on spectrum compatibility of the options included in ECC Report 218 are derived from ECC Report 239 and ECC Report 240. The new ECC Report 218, meanwhile, addresses spectrum options for the implementation of BB-PPDR services in CEPT countries in the 400 and 700 MHz frequency ranges.

The 400 MHz Range
ECC Report 218 concludes that the 400 MHz range can offer national flexibility for BB-PPDR, for example in the context of additional spectrum besides the 700 MHz range. The spectrum compatibility with, among other things, the radio astronomy service, radiolocation service and the terrestrial broadcasting service, has been assessed in ECC Report 240, indicating the technical measures needed to ensure their coexistence. A spectrum of up to 2 by 5 megahertz could be realized in the 410 – 430 and 450 – 470 MHz bands.

It is currently under discussion whether the 410 – 430 MHz band will be further elaborated for the ECC harmonization deliverable for BB-PPDR because of spectrum compatibility issues, lack of current harmonization activities for LTE for the band, as well as a limited number of CEPT administrations, which investigate the band for possible BB-PPDR use in the future.

Related to the 400 MHz ranges, another project team in CEPT, FM54, continues to develop the draft ECC report on “current use, future opportunities and guidance to administrations for the 400 MHz PMR (professional mobile radio) frequencies.” A number of contributions focus on improved sharing of PMR, as well as consideration of a supporting spectrum access protocol for this purpose. Considerations also include elaboration of harmonized technical conditions for LTE in the 400 MHz bands while not changing the previous balance with the requirements for other radio applications, especially for PMR. A recent survey among CEPT administrations revealed that there are about 120,000 individual licenses in Europe in the 400 MHz range, mostly for narrowband systems such as Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), TETRA, digital Private Mobile Radio (dPMR) and analog PMR systems.

The 450 MHz Alliance provided a request in FM54 to consider LTE in the band 450 – 470 MHz band. FM54 will consider setting up a proposal for a compatibility study request at its next meeting. In addition, that review may include elaboration of necessary modifications of ECC harmonization deliverables for narrowband and wider band PMR, as well as for the recommendations on cross-border coordination.

The European Utilities Telecom Council (EUTC) also makes proposals for the utilities sector using the 400 MHz frequencies among others. ETSI is expected to support this process with the creation of a system reference document description.

The 700 MHz Range
BB-PPDR can be accommodated within the 700 MHz range by either designating spectrum for dedicated BB-PPDR, use of a commercial mobile fixed communications network (MFCN) or a combination of both to fulfill national PPDR requirements. Harmonized technical requirements for the use of MFCN in the 700 MHz band (703 – 733 and 758 – 788 MHz) already exist in ECC Decision (15)01.

ECC Report 239 assessed the spectrum compatibility with the MFCN and the terrestrial broadcasting service below 694 MHz, indicating the technical measures needed to ensure their coexistence.

Project Team FM49 within the ECC Working Group on Frequency Management will continue to work on the harmonization deliverable for BB-PPDR in the near future. That deliverable will cover the flexible harmonization concept according to ECC Report 218 and the technical conditions to be defined for dedicated BB-PPDR spectrum in the 400 and 700 MHz ranges.

CEPT also informed the Third Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) RAN 4 and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) about the results set out in ECC Report 218 because there is a related current new work item in 3GPP RAN4.

Further investigation is needed on some additional aspects of future spectrum use for BB-PPDR such as direct terminal-to-terminal communications (off-network working), air-ground-air communications, ad hoc networks, critical voice communications over the BB-PPDR wide-area network and cross-border coordination.

Finally, the assumption is that mission-critical voice and narrowband data will continue to be carried in most CEPT countries by the existing dedicated TETRA, Tetrapol and DMR networks until 2025 to 2030. The spectrum for these networks has been designated in ECC Decision (08)05. However, in some CEPT countries, PPDR agencies could migrate all of their mission-critical voice and data services onto networks using broadband technology such as LTE. And they may do so in a shorter timescale.

Thomas Weber is with the European Communications Office (ECO) of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) — Spectrum Management.

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