Call for urgent talks to decide key spectrum allocation in national interest

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and Communications Alliance today called on the Federal Government to convene urgent talks between industry, emergency service organisations and government to decide, based on the national interest, the optimal allocation of Digital Dividend spectrum.


Last year, the Federal Government announced that the Digital Dividend, which is spectrum freed from the switch from analogue to digital television, would be 126MHz to be allocated to new uses such as advanced mobile telecommunications services, including mobile broadband.


AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, said it was vital for parties to discuss the ramifications and potential unintended consequences of recent Emergency Service Organisation (ESO) demands for 20MHz of the Digital Dividend (700MHz) spectrum to build a new stand-alone emergency services mobile telecommunications network.


“This debate must be about achieving the best use of spectrum for both industry and ESO needs, which should be based on the existing, highly-successful partnership between industry and ESOs to enhance emergency services using the expertise of both groups to deliver a win/win for Australia,” he said.


“The telecommunications industry is very concerned that recent ESO calls for some of the Digital Dividend spectrum would result in a lose/lose outcome because it would isolate Australian emergency services from the Asia-Pacific region and also impede the mobile telecommunications industry’s ability to roll-out new 4G mobile broadband networks.”


Communications Alliance Chief Executive Officer, John Stanton, said: “Calls to build a new stand-alone emergency services network in Australia do not stand up to scrutiny because it would be very expensive – costing billions – and would unnecessarily duplicate existing networks that are more than capable of doing the job.”

Mr Althaus and Mr Stanton said:

  • No other Asia-Pacific nation has proposed access to the 700MHz band for emergency services. This would isolate Australia from the region because its emergency service spectrum would be incompatible with neighbouring countries.
  • Police and ESOs claim that their approach has been guided by the United States. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region considered the US plan for 700 MHz spectrum arrangements in 2010, however, the regional consensus was to reject it because it makes less efficient use of spectrum. The USA plan is not compatible with the one in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • In short, ESOs are asking for the wrong spectrum. The ITU has designated other bands of 806-824MHz and 851-869MHz for public protection and disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific region. This is a far better solution for Australian ESOs and would allow them to collaborate in the region using compatible frequencies, if a stand-alone network was agreed.
  • Australia’s existing multi-billion dollar commercial networks of around 18,000 sites with base stations across Australia can be optimised or “hardened” to meet the stringent standards required by ESOs.


Mr Althaus said: “The cost of building a stand-alone emergency services network in the 700MHz band should also be measured in terms of lost national productivity from carving-out the Digital Dividend and hobbling the telecommunication industry’s capacity to deliver next-generation mobile broadband, which will be vital in driving productivity growth and enhancing Australia’s full participation in the digital economy.”


He said carriers’ ability to build 4G networks to meet mobile broadband demand would be severely limited if denied access to the agreed Federal Government Digital Dividend band plan, which would result in slower speeds and reduced coverage, particularly in rural and regional areas.


A Network Strategies report commissioned by AMTA last year estimated gross productivity benefits for mobile broadband over the period of 2013 to 2020 to be around $143 billion. Realisation of this potential is dependent on the entire Digital Dividend spectrum being available for mobile broadband.


Mr Stanton said: “It is vital and urgent that a high-level dialogue between industry, ESOs and government take place to ensure all facts are on the table before far-reaching decisions affecting the national interest are made.”


For more information contact Randal Markey, AMTA, 0421 240 550