While emergency services organisations (ESOs) continue to fight for the 700MHz spectrum, Telstra has insisted the 800MHz spectrum is an even better substitute for a high-speed public safety mobile broadband network.
ESOs and commercial telcos have been butting heads over 700MHz, which is a highly lucrative spectrum band which can be used for LTE mobile broadband networks. ESOs want a piece of that band reserved for a purpose-built public safety broadband network, a proposal vehemently rejected by the commercial sector.
A public safety 4G LTE broadband network could be used to gather real-time information, such as video data from a disaster-stricken area, for swifter response by emergency service agencies.
According to ESOs, assigning any other spectrum band for public safety would put Australia out of step with the rest of the world.
At the Senate enquiry on the capacity of communication networks and emergency services warning systems for emergencies and natural disasters yesterday, Telstra refuted this claim.
The telco is aligned with a Government proposal to use the 800MHz spectrum for emergency services instead.
“What has been set aside at the bottom end of the 800MHz spectrum, from around 806-824MHz, is a piece of spectrum known as public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) and it has been harmonised across the South-East Asia region,” Telstra director of networks and commercial planning said at the parliamentary hearing. “Countries in that region all have that piece of spectrum earmarked for comer emergency service capabilities.”
Telstra argued 800MHz is better suited for ESOs rather than the valuable and scarce spectrum at 700MHz.
The telco shot down suggestions that 700MHz is a more globally accepted band for emergency services.
“[We] think it’s quite the opposite,” Goonan said. “There are a lot of different 700MHz plans around the world; the US’s plans are different to Australia’s so there is in fact no synergy between them both.
“Where you get Synergies is that lower end of the 800MHz spectrum.”
Advocates for 700MHz to be used for public safety purposes have claimed 800MHz is not a worthy substitute as it would bump up cost and cause lengthy delays for an emergency broadband network.
Communication vendors are mainly looking at developing products for the highly sort after 700MHz band which means, due to economies of scale, equipment in that space would be cheaper.
Then there is the issue of refarming the 800MHz band, which may take up to 10 years. Most of the 800MHz band, roughly around 824MHz to 869MHz, is already occupied by mobile operators. The rest is being used by Government and commercial two-way radio.
All these concerns, along with a number of others related to 800MHz shortcomings for ESOs, were raised again at the parliamentary hearing by the Police Federation of Australia.
Telstra saw suggestions of a cost blowout for an ESO broadband network as premature since Australia’s 700MHz plan is still somewhat up in the air.
“While there is a broad community of interest in 700MHz, there are bespoke developments to be made in each country and that hasn’t yet occurred for Australia because the spectrum is yet to be available here,” Goonan said.
The Police Federation of Australia also claimed the lower end of the 800MHz band is specifically for narrowband voice and data, meaning data transfers at very low speeds of up to 96kbps. This, according to ESOs, is insufficient for public safety purposes.
“With respect to comments on narrowband versus wideband, I don’t understand [it],” Goonan said. “Essentially there is an 18MHz spectrum we’ve set aside at the 806-824MHz side; that is more than enough to support broadband services we operate and intend to operate in the future by way of example.
“10Mhz of bandwidth today supports 4G technology Telstra is introducing so the PPDR spectrum at 800MHz can more than adequately support 4G technology.”
At the public hearing, NSW Government Telecommunications Authority, said it had no preference when it comes to which spectrum band to use so long as it worked.