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Monday, 28 November 2011 11:54

Senate enquiry calls for dedicated emergency comms spectrum

By

The mobile telephony industry has failed to convince a parliamentary enquiry into the communications needs of emergency service organisations that these needs are best met through services provided by the mobile communications industry rather than by dedicating spectrum for emergency communications services.

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee on Friday tabled its report into the capacity of communication networks and emergency warning systems to deal with emergencies and natural disasters.

It made six recommendations, including that the Commonwealth Government: "allocate sufficient spectrum for dedicated broadband public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) radiocommunications in Australia," and that any allocation of broadband spectrum to emergency service organisations (ESOs) for public protection and disaster relief "must be provided on the basis of interoperability amongst Australian ESOs and with ESO counterparts overseas."

However neither the committee nor many of the emergency service organisations that made submissions to the enquiry could decided on the most appropriate spectrum.

In its report the committee said: "As technology advances and the ability to use mobile broadband to inform and support the work of ESOs expands, ESOs' need for broadband spectrum will inevitably increase. In particular, the use of photos, video, maps and other tools will increasingly be relied upon in operational decision-making by ESOs by providing information both to and from 'the scene' in real time.

"The committee acknowledges that the capacity for ESOs to use mobile broadband in these ways will better enable ESOs to protect people and property during times of emergency. It is also the committee's view it is preferable to allocate to ESOs dedicated spectrum that is separate from the commercial networks. On this basis, the committee believes that dedicated broadband spectrum should be allocated for PPDR radiocommunications in Australia."

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It added: "The committee does not have the technical expertise to recommend whether this spectrum should be in the 700MHz band or 800 and 900MHz bands. The committee notes that DBCDE, the ACMA and the Attorney-General's Department are currently engaged in processes examining this question."

Spectrum that could be dedicated to ESOs is primarily the so called digital dividend spectrum that will be freed up by the switch to digital TV transmission, and which is highly sought after by the mobile operators, and spectrum in the 800MHz and 900MHz bands.

The report says: "All of Australia's Police Commissioners from every state and territory and the AFP have agreed that they need 20MHz (10 +10 MHz paired) of this newly available 700MHz band to establish a leading edge network for law enforcement and emergency services agencies."

The Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency advocated for the allocation of 700MHz Digital Dividend spectrum to ESOs on the grounds that 900MHz spectrum would not be available for some time; that equipment for the 800MHz and 900MHz bands is more costly and that 700MHz would ensure international harmonisation, particularly with Europe and the United Kingdom, and the interoperability of Australian police equipment with other police forces on international missions.

However the report said that other ESOs were undecided about what spectrum should be allocated for broadband PPDR in Australia.

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