The New South Wales Government has signalled it is willing to consider 800MHz spectrum band as an alternative for emergency services use instead of the highly sought-after 700MHz spectrum band.
For several months, the Police Federation of Australia and a number of other emergency service organisations have been lobbying the government to allocate them a portion of the 700MHz spectrum band due for auction at the end of 2012. The organisations say that using 700MHz spectrum would conform with international emergency service organisations across the globe. The groups are seeking to use part of the spectrum for downloading and uploading data — this is something they say cannot be accomplished over the 400MHz spectrum band, which is already reserved for the purposes of emergency services.
Stuck between emergency organisations and telecommunications companies willing to pay top dollar to use the 700MHz spectrum for their next-generation mobile networks, the Federal Government has indicated that the 800MHz spectrum may be an alternate option for the emergency services organisations.
The Police Federation of Australia has previously said that this would not be acceptable and reiterated its position today at a senate inquiry into the capacity of communication networks and emergency warning systems to deal with emergencies and natural disasters.
However, New South Wales Government Telecommunications director of operations Tony Gates told the inquiry that the government was open to using 800MHz.
"If 800[MHz] can deliver the spectrum and it can be delivered on commercially available technology, so we don't have to go out and build new technology and if it can be delivered to meet the needs of emergency services at a reasonable cost, I don't have a preference," he said.
Gates said that emergency services need a network capable of transmitting fingerprint data and downloading video. He said that this would likely be expensive both in the case that the government sacrifices some of the lucrative 700MHz spectrum and the case that emergency services organisations used different spectrum, because the latter might require more expensive equipment.
"It needs to be delivered to us in a way we can afford because we not only need the spectrum, we need to then go off and build the networks. The only alternative is to use commercial spectrum, and if we are forced to use commercial spectrum, then that raises the issue of how we get reserve capacity in that commercial spectrum."
Telstra, in its submission to the inquiry, has indicated that emergency services could use its long-term evolution (LTE) network to be launched later this month, as it would be ideal.
"The sharing of 4G infrastructure provided by commercial providers is a significantly more cost effective solution, due to the sharing of costs and the ability to leverage from existing infrastructure," Telstra said. "Commercial networks can be customised to provide different levels of prioritised access for voice and data in a more cost effective manner than that possible with a stand-alone network."
Gates said it was a very complex issue, and that 800MHz had to be evaluated.
"There will be lots of people on my side of the house that will say we have to get access to the 700, there will be people saying 'well, the demand is too great, we have to look somewhere else'," he said. "We need access to spectrum that meets operational purposes [and] it's yet to be tested whether 800 can deliver that."