Feeds

UK spectrum row: What we need is more national disasters

Only that way will there be proper emergency comms

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Future of Wireless The problem with UK radio spectrum policy, apparently, is that we have too much competition and not enough proper disasters, which means our emergency services won't get enough radio spectrum until people start dying.

That's according to Motorola's Jeppe Jepsen, who does have a vested interest as a supplier of kit to emergency networks, but his strident stance during a debate at the Future of Wireless conference seemed to embarrass even the chap from Airwave (which runs the UK's emergency-services network). Jepsen was arguing that all the commercial networks should be merged into one, but that emergency services should operate entirely separately.

That view got short shrift from Vodafone, which was also on the stage, and Ofcom, whose director of spectrum technology, Joe Butler, was on hand to reiterate the regulator's belief that having four competing networks increased coverage and service for all.

But with the UK's four commercial networks already sharing two physical networks (if not radio frequencies) the argument that Airwave needs its own infrastructure is looking decidedly thin, which perhaps accounts for Jepsen's fierce defence of it.

The UK's Airwave network covers most of the UK, and has something in the region of 14MHz of spectrum (compared to Vodafone's 76MHz and Everything Everywhere's 170MHz – even Three has just over 34MHz to play with, though it's all up in the 2.1GHz band). Airwave, on the other hand, operates in low bands – around 400MHz – which increases the range considerably but also means bigger antennas.

The network also uses TETRA rather than GSM, as TETRA offers the point-to-point communications and relaying necessary to stretch coverage, but as the commercial networks move to (4G) LTE, the technology exists to prioritise traffic and provide enough bandwidth to emulate the best features of TETRA, potentially making the separate network redundant.

At what price public safety?

When pushed, Jepsen was prepared to accept this, but he maintained that such a move would only work if the emergency services themselves had control over the priority switch. We suggested that said services would have little incentive to dial back on their priority, and Jepsen agreed that some financial incentive would have to be applied, rather negating his earlier argument that no price could be put on public safety.

The Americans have put a price on public safety, in the form of 20MHz of decent radio spectrum and $7bn in cash to build a stand-alone LTE network for the exclusive use by the 'services – though how many other bodies slip into that definition remains to be seen.

Airwave gets used by traffic wardens, organ transports and stadiums rent-a-cops as well as the uniformed users one would expect. The American money will come from selling off some TV frequencies in a profit-sharing deal with the TV broadcasters, which will have to squeeze their signals a little more.

Vodafone's chap made much of that deal during the debate, as something worth watching, but in fact the British dedication to broadcast TV would make it impractical over here. A small minority of Americans depend entirely on broadcast TV, which remains the dominant transmission medium on this side of the pond.

But operators will always ask for more spectrum, it's what they do, and operators of emergency networks are no different in that regard. UK operators' calls to simplify the UK 4G auction process (perhaps by removing any attempt to redress the historical imbalance which leaves Vodafone with a decent chunk of bandwidth at 900MHz) are as predictable as they are repetitive, but more surprising was the cross-stage support for White Space technologies ... which none of the participants use, or plan to use.

White Space is interesting not because it fills unused TV frequencies with long-range wireless, but because it's a new way of using radio spectrum. A White Space connection only exists at the discretion of the central database, which can deactivate (or, more likely, retune) connections at will, enabling spectrum to be dynamically allocated to users on a second-by-second basis.

The first White Space devices are already on the shelves in the USA, and will be in the UK within a year, and if the model works then everyone in the industry (on the stage at least) agrees it is how radio will be managed in the future, though Jepsen retains his caveat that the emergency services should retain overriding control over that database if they can't be given a network of their own to play in. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Crouching tiger, FAST ASLEEP dragon: Smugglers can't shift iPhone 6s
China's grey market reports 'sluggish' sales of Apple mobe
Sea-Me-We 5 construction starts
New sub cable to go live 2016
EE coughs to BROKEN data usage metrics BLUNDER that short-changes customers
Carrier apologises for 'inflated' measurements cockup
Comcast: Help, help, FCC. Netflix and pals are EXTORTIONISTS
The others guys are being mean so therefore ... monopoly all good, yeah?
Surprise: if you work from home you need the Internet
Buffer-rage sends Aussies out to experience road rage
EE buys 58 Phones 4u stores for £2.5m after picking over carcass
Operator says it will safeguard 359 jobs, plans lick of paint
MOST iPhone strokers SPURN iOS 8: iOS 7 'un-updatening' in 5...4...
Guess they don't like our battery-draining update?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.