Funds, insufficient bandwidth challenges in APAC emergency spectrum

Asia-Pacific countries are doing well with plans to set aside LTE spectrum for emergency services, but they are challenged by funding issues and inadequate bandwidth.

Setting aside long-term evolution (LTE) spectrum for public safety is important, but finding funds to build and support such infrastructures as well as insufficient bandwidth are key challenges for countries in Asia-Pacific.

Bharat Bhatia, head of Asia-Pacific government affairs and public policy matters for Motorola Solutions, told ZDNet Asia governments were doing well in their plans to set aside LTE spectrum for public safety . He noted  Australia  was the first market in the region to do so, while Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore were moving ahead to look at setting aside spectrum for public safety.

But governments face various challenges in setting up a dedicated network to support emergency services, including finding funnds to build the network and having to deal with the result of allocating insufficient bandwidth at the beginning, said Bhatia.

He explained these networks are owned and funded by state governments. Using the United States as an example, he said the government set aside about US$7 billion obtained from auctioning unused broadcast television spectrum  to build its nationwide emergency communications network.

Bhatia added emergency networks usually are eventually maintained and owned by police agencies. However, in some countries such as the United Kingdom, the network is given to specialized operators which fund and manage the network. Motorola Solutions, for instance, operates a narrowband network to support voice-based emergency communications in Australia.

Bhatia warned governments against allocating insufficient spectrum for emergency networks, noting the U.S. had previously set aside 10MHz for public safety but later increased this to 20MHz. The U.S. had realized 10MHZ was not enough to handle multimedia transmissions and other data-heavy transmissions.

The Australian announced it would  allocate 10MHz of spectrum for public safety even though public safety agencies had requested for 20MHz .

Although it would be alright to start with a smaller spectrum, Bhatia said the government will need to distribute the spectrum so it can grow when needed. This, however, will be a challenge. "If a country is able to see the future and supply the full 20MHz, that will be much easier for the police," he said.

Importance of emergency LTE spectrum
The Motorola executive said setting aside LTE spectrum is important for public safety because of advancements in technology. He noted every country already has dedicated spectrum for public safety communications which is good for voice, but not for sophisiticated technology such as video.

In an emergency situation, the public safety agencies will need more than voice communication. They need video transmission of affected areas and the ability to coordinate different emergency rescue parties. The network will need to be secure and not easily hacked, he added.

While communication technology has advanced from walkie-talkies to LTE, the emergency spectrum has not. "The trouble is the LTE networks which public safety agencies use operate in the same spectrum as commercial networks," he said.

Bhatia noted various organizations, such as International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT), are working on the spectrum needs for emergency service operations on LTE. Currently, two popular frequencies are the 700MHz spectrum band used by the United States, and 800MHz spectrum band traditionally used for police communication, he said.

Julie Welch, senior director of government affairs for Southeast Asia and Pacific at Qualcomm, said Asia-Pacific countries which decide to allocate dedicated spectrum for emergency service operations should do so in the frequency bands that have already been identified by the international organizations. She said in an e-mail interview this would ensure regional spectrum harmonization and network interoperability.

Welch pointed out, at the regional level, there is ongoing work within the APT on spectrum requirements for emergency services. "We encourage administrations and industry stakeholders to participate in the APT discussions in order to arrive at a regionally harmonized plan," she added.