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Announcements and the decision making process
This chapter details the announcements regarding spectrum for public
safety mobile broadband. It considers the consultation and decision making
processes which informed the reservation of spectrum to public safety agencies while
the following chapters considers the debates and viewpoints of stakeholders in
relation to these decisions.
Council of Australian Governments
In December 2009, COAG endorsed the National Framework to Improve
Government Radiocommunications Interoperability (Framework) for law enforcement
and emergency services.
Produced by the Natural Disaster Arrangements Working Group in collaboration
with the NCCGR, the Framework provides a set of guiding principles and
identifies key areas of work to enhance government voice and data
radiocommunications interoperability by 2020. Specifically, it aims to achieve
a transition of all domestic radiocommunications equipment to interoperable
systems, modes and frequencies over a ten-year period from 2010.
According to the NCCGR, improvements to interoperability arising from
the Framework will enable government radiocommunications users to:
- more effectively use their own equipment across jurisdictions
thereby enhancing cross-jurisdictional operations and rapid deployment of
emergency service personnel;
improve response to routine public safety incidents such as
building fires that may require support from several agencies within a
jurisdiction, or during police vehicle pursuits that may necessitate
cross-jurisdictional assistance if state borders are crossed;
- seamlessly switch from 'day-to-day' communications to
multi-agency and/or cross-jurisdictional communications which are often
deployed during emergencies such as natural disasters, catastrophic accidents,
large scale incidents, and similar events that may occur without much warning;
- exploit new and emerging technologies that support improved
interoperability as a result of a nationally consistent coordinated approach.
In 2011, COAG endorsed the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience
(NSDR) to encapsulate a new resilience-based approach to emergency management.
As part of the implementation of the NSDR, a range of initiatives were
identified to 'enhance Australia’s capacity to withstand and recover from
emergencies and natural disasters'. The development of an implementation plan
for national public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) capability, to enable
emergency services such as police, fire fighters and ambulance to communicate
and share information while on the move, was one of the identified initiatives.
The COAG Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM) is
responsible for promoting a coordinated national response to law enforcement
and emergency management issues.
Australian Communications and Media Authority reservation of 10 MHz
In May 2011, the Australian Government announced the possible
'earmarking' of spectrum from the 800 MHz band for potential use by PSAs to
build their mobile broadband capability.
Then on 29 October 2012, the ACMA announced the allocation of spectrum for a
nationally interoperable PSMB capability. Following analysis conducted in
conjunction with PSAs through the PSMBSC, the ACMA announced that it would take
a multi-layered approach to the provision of spectrum for PSAs on the basis
that there is no single-band solution able to meet all the mobile communication
requirements of PSAs. The two measures announced on 29 October build on
arrangements to expand capability in the 400 MHz band which has been
identified for the exclusive use of government, primarily to support national
security, law enforcement and emergency services.
The two measures included:
- 10 MHz of spectrum in the 800 MHz band as a 2 x 5 MHz paired
- 50 MHz of spectrum from the 4.9 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band.
The ACMA noted that the provision of 10 MHz of spectrum from the
800 MHz and 50 MHz in the 4.9 GHz bands would facilitate the deployment of
'high-speed, nationally interoperable mobile broadband networks by public
The ACMA's Chairman, Mr Chris Chapman stated that:
The measures announced today will meet two specific needs
identified by Australia's public safety agencies—the need for wide-ranging 4G
coverage, together with very high capacity, short range coverage for specific
incidents and in high demand areas.
The allocations and the multi-layered approach announced on 29 October
2012 are detailed in the following section.
10 MHz spectrum from the 800 MHz
The ACMA announced that 10 MHz of spectrum (2 x 5 MHz) from the
800 MHz band would be provided for a PSMB cellular 4G data capability.
This band supports 4G (LTE) systems and technologies which is a standard for
wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals.
For this reason, it is considered to be 'beach front' spectrum by carriers and
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
(DBCDE) noted in December 2012 that the frequency range proposed to be
earmarked for allocation to PSMB was a portion of the 805–820 MHz paired with a
portion from 850–870 MHz.
The 805–820 MHz portion band will be freed up result of the switchover from
analogue to digital television transmission. The allocation of spectrum from
the 800 MHz band for PSAs is expected to be made available in 2015 at the same
time as spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
The precise frequencies to be provided from within the 800 MHz band will
be determined in the context of the ACMA's full review of the 803–960 MHz band.
The review of the 803–960 MHz band commenced in May 2011 and two discussion
papers were released by the ACMA as part of a consultation process. The first paper
was released in May 2011.
The second discussion paper was released in December 2012 with the consultation
process on the discussion paper closing in February 2013.
Provision of 50 MHz spectrum in the
4.9 GHz band
The ACMA also announced the provision of 50 MHz of spectrum from the 4.9
GHz band (4940–4990 MHz frequency range) for PSAs. According to the ACMA, this
spectrum is recognised internationally as a public protection and disaster
relief band by the International Telecommunication Union.
The ACMA stated that the 4.9 GHz band is capable of extremely high
capacity, short range, deployable data and video communications (including
supplementary capacity for the PSMB network in areas of very high demand).
It is intended that this will support applications such as WiFi-based local
area networks (LANs), sensor (including video) linking and data offload to
absorb high localised capacity demand in a PSMB network.
The ACMA considered this to be one way in which the 50 MHz from the 4.9 GHz
band would be useful in providing a supplementary, localised capability where
and when it is needed.
It stated that the 4.9 GHz spectrum could be used, therefore, to provide
spill-over capacity where major events cause a spike in traffic.
Under the ACMA proposal, a class licencing arrangement would be applied in
the 4.9 GHz band to allow PSAs to use the band on a non-exclusive basis without
the need for individual device licences. According to the ACMA, a class
licencing arrangement would provide significant flexibility in deployment
during emergency response and disaster recovery activities. It would also allow
PSAs to access spectrum to facilitate their activities without administrative
The ACMA Chairman, Mr Chris Chapman asserted that the complementary
combination of spectrum in the different bands will provide PSAs with an opportunity
and effective outcome as it will provide both 'coverage and penetration'. He noted
that the allocation of spectrum:
...provides PSAs in Australia with an extraordinary opportunity
to do great things in the public interest with spectrum that provides coverage,
flexibility, scalability... it’ll drive interoperability, it gives them capacity
for data, video and voice. And it’s within a harmonised framework.
The ACMA has also noted that the intention is to ensure that the PSMB
network will be available within a wide coverage area and, where there is no
coverage, responders' devices will be able to connect to commercial mobile
Coverage in relation to the three layers of the model were described as
- Wide-area narrowband voice and data using land-mobile topology,
predominantly employing the 400 MHz band in Australia.
- Wide-area broadband data using cellular topology (PSMB),
potentially using the 800 MHz band and supported by business agreements with
commercial carriers in Australia, with supplementary, on-demand coverage and
capacity provided by additional deployable base stations.
- Short-range high-capacity data in deployable hotspots, using the
4.9 GHz band in Australia. While propagation distances in the 4.9 GHz band are
much shorter than in the 400 and 800 MHz bands, there is much more spectrum
available (50 MHz) for public safety use.
Spectrum offer to public safety agencies
On the same day as the ACMA announcement of 29 October 2012, the Attorney-General,
the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the
Digital Economy, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy affirmed that the ACMA spectrum
allocations for a PSMB network followed a request by the Australian Government
to the ACMA for dedicated emergency services spectrum.
The ministerial joint media release further noted that:
The government's offer to the states of the spectrum will be
at a negotiated price and conditional on a number of factors, including:
the capability being nationally interoperable;
the States and Territories funding all costs associated with
designing, building, equipping, maintaining and operating the capability; and
an agreement to provide reasonable access to State and Territory
networks by relevant Commonwealth agencies.
ACMA's decision making process on spectrum for PSMB
The factors that influenced the ACMA's decision to provide 10 MHz of
spectrum for PSMB included:
- evidence before, and work of, the PSMBSC including the UXC
Consulting report and the proposed National Implementation Plan;
the need for provisions to help meet PSA's data demand over and
above the anticipated day-to-day and pre-planned scenarios including:
- additional use of commercial networks for non-mission critical
- as needed deployments of mobile base stations, or 'cells on
wheels' (COWs) to absorb additional local demand;
- use of the 4.9 GHz band to enable deployment of high capacity,
localised 'hot spots' for data offload, video transfer and incident area
networks, among other applications; and
- specific provisions under the Radiocommunications Act that could,
if enacted, enable access to additional spectrum by responders in extreme
- economic factors including capex/opex versus spectrum costs; and
- constraining and mitigating technical factors, including demand
growth, headroom requirements and efficiency gains to be leveraged as part of
the evolutionary growth of the technology (as per 3GPP standards).
The ACMA emphasised that during the PSMBSC process, it was recognised
that no amount of spectrum used by a conventional cellular network was likely
to satisfy a localised, short-notice spike in demand that might result from a
major incident such as a terrorist attack in a central business district or
major urban centre. Furthermore, the ACMA argued that it would be highly
economically inefficient to try and dimension spectrum provisions around what
might be 'once-in-a-generation' events.
The ACMA asserted that one of the key purposes of the spectrum being made
available in the 4.9 GHz band will be to enable high data rates in localised
hot spots such as around an incident site. According to the ACMA, this band
will 'complement the proposed PSMB capability by providing on-demand capacity
over and above that afforded by the fixed PSMB network'. Furthermore, the ACMA
argued, there is an established market for public safety equipment operating in
At the same time, the ACMA also highlighted the ongoing challenge before
...make adequate spectrum available for PSAs to carry out their
duties effectively, while optimising the benefit of the spectrum as a whole to
the community. This requires balancing a range of economic and public interest
(including public safety) drivers to deliver solutions that best serve the
community as a whole.
Public Safety Mobile Broadband
The PSMBSC was established on 30 May 2011 to consider the potential for
800 MHz to be used for emergency services broadband application.
The steering committee's role is detailed in its terms of reference:
a report to Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers and to the Standing
Council for Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM) on the most effective and
efficient way for Australia's public safety agencies to obtain a reliable and
robust mobile broadband capability that meets their operational requirements
and the potential for allocation of radio-frequency in this regard, and
with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) as part of its
review of the 805 MHz to 890 MHz frequency range (the 800 MHz band), to
identify a suitable amount of spectrum necessary to meet foreseeable
The membership of the PSMBSC comprises senior officials from agencies
and departments including the Attorney-General's Department (AGD), DBCDE, ACMA,
and the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA). Other members
- Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council;
- Council of Ambulance Authorities;
- Law Enforcement and Security Radio Spectrum Committee;
- National Coordinating Committee for Government
- National Counter-Terrorism Committee;
National Emergency Management Committee; and
- SCPEM Policing Senior Officers Group.
The first phase of the PSMBSC's work was to identify the amount of spectrum
needed to meet PSA's long-term data demand in the 800 MHz band. To inform this
process, Gibson Quai-AAS Consulting (now UXC Consulting) was commissioned to
undertake the study in consultation with PSAs and Commonwealth agencies. While
the report is publicly available, some content including different
recommendations on the required spectrum quanta have been redacted.
To assist the PSMBSC in its deliberations, the DBCDE also commissioned a report
from the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society on the broadband
communication avenues available to public safety agencies. The report was
released in December 2012.
The PSMBSC developed a draft National Implementation Plan which details
the intentions of the jurisdictions regarding what type of capability
(including infrastructure and coverage aspects) they intend to deliver. The
PSMBSC itself is responsible for operating the network.
The draft National Implementation Plan and PSMBSC report were provided to the
SCPEM on 10 October 2012 for consideration at its 23 November 2012 meeting.
The plan considers the most effective way for PSAs to obtain a nationally
interoperable PSMB capability.
The PSMBSC is expected to provide its report on the establishment of a
nationally interoperable PSMB network to the COAG through the SCPEM in 2013.
Standing Council on Police and
The SCPEM met on 23 November 2012. However, the communique in relation
to the meeting has not been made public.
According to the DBCDE, the SCPEM endorsed the draft National Implementation
Plan and PSMBSC report.
The SCPEM also requested that the PSMBSC continue its work in three
- jurisdictions provide any additional evidence on the adequacy of
the 10 MHz reservation in the 800 MHz band;
- how an 'overflow' capability can be assured when the PSMB
capability is not available; and
next steps to agree the design and implementation of the network.
Digital dividend auction
On 1 November 2011, the Australian Government announced that two blocks
of spectrum in the 700 MHz band (digital dividend) and two blocks of
spectrum in the 2.5 GHz bands would be reallocated by issuing spectrum licences
after TV broadcasters shut off analogue broadcasts at the end of 2014.
The ACMA organised an auction of spectrum in both bands where telecommunications
companies could each purchase no more than 2 x 25 MHz (50 MHz in total) of 700
In relation to PSAs and the 700 MHz band, Access Economics noted in a
September 2010 report that if PSAs were to seek an allocation in that band, it
had been recommended that they seek 10 + 10 MHz to ensure adequate capacity.
Access Economics stated that the 700 MHz band frequency range was:
...well suited to Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technologies that
will enable high-speed broadband applications, and the emerging use of LTE
technology on the 700 MHz band internationally means there may be some
equipment synergies. In addition, a PSA network at 700 MHz would be able to
leverage substantially off the existing 450 MHz infrastructure, for which
infrastructure was built with site overlap.
However, the appropriateness of the digital dividend for LTE
technology means that it is expected to be an in-demand band when the auction
The auction commenced on 23 April 2013 and three bidders, Optus Mobile,
Telstra and TPG Internet secured spectrum in the auction, resulting in total
revenues of $1.96 billion. This was less than half the amount which was
expected to be raised at the auction ($4 billion). Four companies initially
applied to participate in the auction, however, Vodafone Hutchison Australia
withdrew before the auction.
The auction reflected a less than expected desire by telecommunications
companies for 700 MHz with 2 x 15 MHz or 30 MHz spectrum in total left unsold
(sections 733–748 MHz and 788–803 MH).
The unallocated 30 MHz of spectrum has a 3GPP standard which enables LTE to
operate in it.
The Minister, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy stated that the 30 MHz (or
15 MHz paired) of the 700 MHz unsold spectrum was worth 'in the order of
$1 billion' and that the government intended to return it to the market within
two or three years.
The expectation of some stakeholders was that the unsold spectrum would be made
available when Australia's television services switch to digital services by
In evidence to the committee, the ACMA noted that while the unsold
spectrum is currently unallocated, it does not have the ability to allocate it.
At the same time, Mrs Maureen Cahill, General Manager, Communications
Infrastructure Division of ACMA, stated that domestic mobile broadband growth
suggests that it will need to deliver to the Australian market at least an
additional 300 MHz of spectrum by 2020 in addition to what is currently on the
The lack of take-up of the remaining 30 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz
band marked a new phase in the debate regarding the appropriate allocation of
spectrum for PSMB. It opened up the possibility for PSAs to occupy a block of
spectrum in the 700 MHz band. State and territory governments noted in their
evidence to the committee that their understanding was that PSAs were offered
spectrum in the 800 MHz band for reasons including the commercial value of the
700 MHz band and the assumption that there would be no 700 MHz spectrum
available following the auction.
Therefore, the documentation and work undertaken by emergency services focused
on the 800 MHz spectrum band as it was understood that the 700 MHz spectrum
would be sold at auction and therefore 'off the table'.
Over the past three years, a number of states and territories, law
enforcement agencies, as well as the PFA have stated their position that PSAs require
a minimum of 20 MHz (10 + 10 MHz) on a number of occasions.
Emergency service agencies have consistently raised the need for a dedicated
broadband spectrum particularly as their data requirements continue to increase
with technological advances.
In February 2010, the LESRSC noted that:
Considering US experience, public safety and emergency
services may require at least 10+10 MHz spectrum from the 700 MHz band, the
850 MHz band or the 900 MHz band to establish their mobile broadband
communications networks to support Government uses.
In July 2012, the Premiers of NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western
Australia wrote to the Prime Minister requesting an allocation of an absolute
minimum 20 MHz (10 + 10 MHz).
In February 2013, in order to facilitate further consideration of the states'
requirement for additional spectrum, a joint submission of the governments of
the ACT, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western
Australia was made to the SCPEM and ACMA. Endorsed by the Police and Emergency
Services Ministers in all states and territories through SCPEM in April 2013
and noted by the COAG the same month, the joint submission identified three
primary concerns with the ACMA announcement which are considered in this
The PFA has also consistently advocated for 20 MHz since June 2010.
The position upheld by law enforcement agencies and various
jurisdictions that the ACMA 'set aside evidence of the operational requirements
of law enforcement agencies in preference for a multi-layered spectrum
solution' is central to this inquiry.
ACMA considerations and final decision
As part of finalising a decision regarding allocation of PSMB, the ACMA
informed the committee that it was currently reviewing the evidence contained
in the joint state and territory submission which raised concerns about the allocation
of only 10 MHz. The ACMA is also awaiting the overflow capability report
which the Overflow
Capabilities Sub-Group is due to produce.
In November 2012, when it addressed the steering committee, the ACMA indicated
that it would consider further evidence provided to it. As noted, the
governments of WA, ACT, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania
responded in February 2013, providing additional evidence by way of a joint
submission the ACMA and the SCPEM. 
The ACMA emphasised that the decision making process that it is engaged
in is 'evidence-based' and that it would review the material brought before it.
However, the ACMA was unable to determine when a final decision regarding an
allocation of spectrum for PSMB would be made.
Mr Chis Cheah, Authority Member of the ACMA, noted that a final determination
would be made 'as soon as possible after receipt of the overflow capability
work' which will be provided 'later this year'.
Draft Ministerial Directions – 700 MHz band
On 24 June 2013, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the
Digital Economy, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, released two draft Ministerial
Directions for public consultation.
The purpose of the Australian Communications and Media Authority
(Spectrum Allocation – Timing and Post-Auction Review) Direction No. 1 of 2013
is to direct the ACMA to report to the Minister by 1 September 2014 on the
appropriate procedures for the allocation of the unsold 700 MHz spectrum,
having regard to:
- the prices achieved for spectrum licences allocated as a result
of the digital dividend auction; and
- prevailing market circumstances that may have an impact on the
value of the spectrum.
The purpose of the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Access Charges –
700 MHz Band) Direction No. 1 of 2013 is to direct the ACMA that in any
pricing determination the ACMA makes for the unsold 700 MHz spectrum under
subsection 294(1) of the Radiocommunications Act, the ACMA must fix the
spectrum access charges at no less than $1.36/MHz/pop.
Public consultation opened the day that the Ministerial Directions were
issued with submissions due by 19 July 2013.
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