Europe's Broadband Spectrum Strategy for Public Safety

We all know that the public safety services (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard, etc.) need reliable radiocommunications to do their job effectively. Some high-profile incidents over the years have highlighted the benefits of coordination between the services, and the problems which arise when this is not in place. In the 1990s many authorities have implemented the TETRA radio system, which has helped, although that is only part of the equation.

The ECC took a step forward in 2008 with its Decision (08)05. This replaced and augmented an earlier Decision (Dec(96)01, harmonising frequencies for voice and lower speed data in the range 385-390 and 390-395 MHz) with one setting out arrangements also for wideband data (effectively up to 500 kbit/s) in a wider range extended up to 470 MHz. This recognises that the detailed frequency availability within this range varies from country to country due to existing commitments. The Decision also recognises the term 'Public Protection and Disaster Relief', a fairly self-explanatory term which is defined more precisely by the ITU in its Recommendation M2033.

But now there is a demand in the PPDR community for higher bandwidth broadband communications. The requirement is for high resolution pictures to be sent from the field to the control room. European agencies are working together in the ECC to establish a harmonised frequency band for these public-safety broadband services.

The ECC's Frequency Management Working Group (WG FM) has established a new Project Team, FM49. It focuses on medium and long term (before year 2025) spectrum realisation and will develop a roadmap on the timeframes and necessary steps needed. European-wide harmonisation of spectrum brings benefits of market size for equipment and technical efficiency in spectrum use. Here, the evaluation of suitable bands (for both below and above 1 GHz), will also take into account cross-border-communication issues and PPDR application requirements including issues such as inter-operability needs, whilst not ignoring the opportunities and constraints specific to individual countries.

Public safety broadband requirements from a range of industry and public safety users have already been described in the ETSI System Reference Document TR 102 628 and have been from ETSI to WG FM.

The formation of the new project team FM49 follows two significant workshops on PPDR. The ECC's WG FM organised a workshop on spectrum needs for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) communication systems in March 2010. This was followed by an EU workshop organised by DG Information Society and Media (INFSO) of the European Commission in March 2011.

To set out a background for the work, WG FM developed a questionnaire on the radio spectrum demand for public safety systems. After the European Communications Office had conducted the questionnaire exercise, WG FM identified some main conclusions based on the responses:

  • The use of existing and new data applications (high speed data) by PPDR users will increase rapidly;
  • Increased data usage, especially for mission critical communications, will have a significant effect on the frequency need and justifies requirements for additional spectrum;
  • There are many requirements and conditions for the use of PPDR, which lead to the need to use dedicated PPDR networks. However, in addition to the dedicated networks, commercial/public networks are and will also be used for non-mission critical data applications.

As well as the ECC Decision (08)05 on the harmonisation of frequency bands for PPDR in the 380-470 MHz range, other relevant existing deliverables are:

  • ECC Recommendation (08)04 on the identification of frequency bands for the implementation of BBDR (Broadband Disaster Relief) radio applications in 5 GHz
  • ECC Decision (06)05 regarding Air-Ground-Air operation (AGA) of the Digital Land Mobile Systems for the Emergency Services and
  • ERC Decision (01)19 regarding DMO frequencies for Emergency Services.

The new FM49 aims to bring together the regulatory authorities as well as an array of stakeholders and experts in telecommunications used for public protection and disaster relief purposes. This will facilitate the collection of further information and exchange of views and ideas concerning the future PPDR systems, especially the broadband systems and is a unique opportunity to discuss some key issues relating to PPDR and the frequency bands to be used for these systems in the future.

The ideal frequency bands sought by PPDR services are also used or sought by other applications. FM49 will recognise this in its recommendations, so that the ECC can reach a balanced position taking all these factors into account as far as possible.

Thomas Weber
ECO Expert in Frequency Management

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