800MHz public safety broadband would waste time and money

Proposal to substitute the 700MHz spectrum with the 800MHz spectrum for emergency services broadband is good news for private telcos but not for public safety agencies

Using the 800MHz spectrum instead of the 700MHz spectrum for public safety broadband use would be extremely costly and could delay plans for an emergency services broadband network by up to 10 years.

At the recent meeting with the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, it revealed a steering committee would be formed to explore the potentials for 800MHz to be used for emergency services broadband application.

If the government favours 800MHz for public safety, it would be a triumph for the telco sector that has rallied to keep 700MHz open for commercial use.

The 700MHz spectrum is particularly lucrative and ideal for private 4G network rollouts. Communications Alliance warned saving the spectrum for public safety use would be commercially damaging to the telco sector.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will now consider replanning space in the 800MHz band for public safety agencies.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will look into the issue and report to the next Standing Council on Police and Emergency Services meeting.

Motorola Solutions has been a staunch supporter of reserving 700MHz for emergency services as demand for streaming video footage from disaster areas becomes increasingly important.

The vendor’s managing director, Gary Starr, had been hopeful of a positive outcome from negotiations between government, telcos and public safety agencies.

He noted 800MHz is already being used for public protection and disaster relief but if is specifically for narrow band voice and data. This means data transfers at very low speeds of up to 96kbps.

To use this band for public safety would put Australia out of sync in the Asia-Pacific region as well as globally since only 700MHz has been identified for public safety broadband.

Another problem with the new proposal is a lot of the 800MHz is already being used.

“The majority of the 800MHz band, which is roughly 824MHz to 869MHz, has already been occupied by mobile phone operators,” Starr said. “Interestingly, the remainder of that band is being used by government and commercial customers already for two-way radio.

“To move people out of the band would take years and we’re not talking one or two years but up to five to 10 years.”

Telecoms analyst firm, Telsyte, said it was possible to deploy high-speed broadband over the 800MHz spectrum but public safety organisations may have to pay through the nose for equipment deployment.

“If there is no global deployment in the band they are suggesting then it is going to cost a lot more to deploy technology; it all comes down to economies of scale,” Telsyte director, Chris Coughlan, said.

“You will need to have a vendor specifically reband its LTE equipment for the requirements of the public safety agencies in the Australian market.”

While this is not the ideal scenario for emergency services, leaving the 700MHz spectrum would benefit more people, according to Coughlan.

“Public safety groups would be using the spectrum for about 20,000 people whereas that same spectrum could add value to millions of people especially as mobile broadband uptake increases,” he said. “Even if deploying through [800MHz] is more costly from an equipment perspective, it might be a better economic solution.”

The Police Federation of Australia, a prominent group pushing for part of the 700MHz to be reserved for public safety reasons, was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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Tags broadbandMotorolaSenator Stephen ConroyCommunications Ministerattorney-generalRobert McClelland700Mhzpublic safety broadbandAustralian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). 800MHz

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