Motorola has added its voice to those advocating a block of spectrum from the digital dividend be kept for emergency services use so that emergency workers can stay in contact during times of network stress.
Emergency services are seeking to obtain a block of the 700MHz band of spectrum, which is being made available when the television networks move from analog to digital.
However, the 700MHz band of spectrum is set to be taken to auction, and telecommunications carriers have their eye on it for their long-term evolution (LTE) mobile networks, raising fears that high bidding will make it impossible for emergency services to obtain the block it desires.
Yet, it shouldn't be about the money, according to Motorola Australia managing director of enterprise mobility solutions Gary Starr.
"It's not an economic discussion. The government can build an economic rationale for a block of spectrum [that] gets sold off and I can get how many million dollars per piece," he said at MediaConnect's Kickstart 2011 forum. "It's a question of: is this mortgaging the future? Does this group of users require this technology?"
The public safety sector strongly believed that the spectrum was critical, Starr said, not only because of what they're doing now with their radio networks, but what they will be doing with it.
"If they don't get it, we can sort of have the discussion around when will video become an inherent part of what they do. Then when they look back in five years that spectrum won't be available," he said.
"There's a real danger of mortgaging the future if they don't have access to that spectrum."
He agreed that they would be able to buy commercial grade services, with some of the carriers offering some form of quality of service, but said that there was still the need for a private network in times of disaster.
Motorola has a network operating across greater Brisbane, which the State Emergency Services use. During the floods, it was 100 per cent available, according to Starr, while other networks struggled.
It was easier for Motorola to maintain the smaller radio network than for the carriers to keep their sprawling network online, he said.
"This radio network has about 30 sites, the cellular networks probably have 600, 1000. Where there were issues we were fixing them because we only had to deal with 30 sites across the same area.
"It's much easier to keep a network like that available; high power, sites higher up, different technology," he said.
However, there's limited spectrum available, and carriers are anxious to get as large an allocation as possible for their pending LTE networks. Telstra has already announced that it will start rolling out LTE this year.
Meanwhile, other parties are also looking for spectrum, such as the Australasian Railways Association, which has said that rail authorities needed a block of the 700MHz spectrum for their own networks.
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has weighed in, saying that emergency services shouldn't be given the spectrum they're asking for.
"Reserving portions of the digital dividend for emergency services would isolate Australia from the regional band plan for 2x 45MHz FDD configuration in the 698-806MHz range for future mobile broadband services," AMTA told CommsDay (PDF). "As a technology taker, Australia's alignment with Region 3 arrangements has the potential to unlock a critical mass that will drive market demand for the manufacture of handsets and equipment and deliver significant competitive benefits to Australian consumers."
AMTA said it believed there were alternate bands, such as 400MHz, that could be used.
"If building a separate [emergency services] network is required (and the mobile telecommunications industry has serious doubts about that), it would be better to build this in spectrum that is harmonised with other Asia-Pacific countries. The ESOs have only just last year been allocated a dedicated series of blocks in the 400-430MHz and 450-470MHz bands."
Ultimately, there was a benefit of having emergency services in the same band that carriers are rolling out their LTE, according to Starr: emergency services could roam onto carrier networks as needed and would also be afforded with lower costs.
"The same vendors will be developing technology that will work in the same spectrum for public safety use," he said. "They'll get the benefits of scale and volume."
Suzanne Tindal travelled to Kickstart as a guest of MediaConnect.