This article is taken from the ACMA's Five-year Spectrum Outlook 2013-2017, published in September 2013.
The Five-year spectrum outlook 2013–2017 is available for download as an e-mag, PDF and word document here. The Table of contents and links to individual sections of the report are available here.
4.3.1 Review of the 803–960 MHz band
The review of the 803–960 MHz band commenced in 2011 with the release of The 900 MHz band—Exploring new opportunities discussion paper. Additionally, as part of the project to identify spectrum for public safety agencies (PSA) in section 4.3.2 below, the ACMA announced that 10 MHz (2 x 5 MHz) would be identified in the 800 MHz band to support the deployment of mobile broadband networks by these agencies.
Following analysis of the submissions and the announcement regarding spectrum for public safety agencies, the ACMA released the second discussion paper in the review of the 803–960 MHz band—The 803–960 MHz band—Exploring options for future change—in December 2012. This paper sought information and comment on the following broad areas:
> options for expanding the 800 MHz band to include spectrum in the upper part of the digital dividend that is not being included in the initial 700 MHz band allocation
> consideration of the technical and licensing arrangements in the digital cellular mobile telephony service segments (890–915 MHz paired with 935–960 MHz)
> opportunities for facilitating new technologies or expanding existing services in under-utilised parts of the 803–960 MHz band
> consideration of the future overall structure of the 803–960 MHz band.
A total of 32 submissions were received to the discussion paper.
A further discussion paper is scheduled for release in 2013–14 and will contain proposed future arrangement for spectrum in the 803–960 MHz band.
As outlined in Figure 4.1, the review phase is expected to be completed in mid 2014 with implementation ongoing after the completion of the review. Spectrum will be made available for public safety agencies (PSAs) within two years of these agencies advising that they intend to deploy their network in a particular area. This will impact the transition time frames for any users currently operating in the spectrum identified for PSAs.
Figure 4.1 Phases and stages of the 803–960 MHz review
4.3.2 Spectrum for public safety agencies
Currently, the majority of dedicated public safety radiocommunications services in Australia are narrowband land mobile networks operating in the VHF and UHF bands—including extensive holdings in the 400 MHz band. The ACMA is in the process of implementing a range of reforms in the 400 MHz band that will harmonise part of it for government/PSA use and improve its technical and allocative efficiency.
The ACMA has also been assisting PSAs in realising a nationally interoperable public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) capability by identifying spectrum requirements in the 800 MHz band. In May 2011, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy established the Public Safety Mobile Broadband Steering Committee (PSMBSC) to work towards the development of a new nationally interoperable mobile broadband capability for PSAs. Further information on the PSMBSC is on the DBCDE website.
Fifty MHz of spectrum has also been made available in the 4.9 GHz band for exclusive use by PSAs for high-capacity, short-range data transfer including video, mapping, imagery and other sensor data.. This band will be ideal for setting up multi-agency local area networks in response to an incident or disaster.
Public safety radiocommunications needs are wide-ranging and demand for services is highly dynamic and non-homogeneous.
Through a combination of the abovementioned provisions, PSAs will have access to a suite of wide-area narrowband and broadband communications, with the ability to meet localised ‘spikes’ in demand (such as those resulting from an emergency or disaster), with high-capacity, deployable ‘hot spots’.
This represents a multi-band ‘system of systems’ approach to public safety communications, which is the best way for PSAs to meet their mission and business- critical communications needs well into the future. This approach was set in motion in October 2012, when the ACMA announced a range of measures that would support public safety communications across a range of frequency bands and technologies. These measures were:
- Provision of 10 MHz of spectrum from the 800 MHz band for wide-area PSMB.
- 50 MHz of spectrum from the 4.9 GHz band—internationally harmonised for public protection and disaster relief (PPDR)—for extremely high-capacity, short-range, deployable data and video communications (including supplementary capacity for the PSMB network in areas of very high demand). A class licence has been made permitting access by PSAs to this spectrum.
- Implementation of critical reforms in the 400 MHz band—where spectrum has been identified for the exclusive use of government, primarily to support national security, law enforcement and emergency services.
Figure 4.2 is a conceptual representation of how these provisions could work together to provide a holistic, multi-layered communications capability. It is envisaged that, combined with agreements with carriers for out-of-area broadband data coverage—recognised as being necessary by both the PSMBSC and internationally—these provisions and reforms will combine to form the basis of a holistic strategy to meet PSAs’ voice, data and video communications needs well into the future. A significant body of work remains to be done in realising this—in particular the implementation of the 400 MHz band reforms and the ACMA’s engagement in deliberations on PSMB will be ongoing for some time.
Figure 4.2 Overview of multi-band concept for future public safety radiocommunications
4.3.3 Infrastructure parks
There is current interest from a variety of infrastructure stakeholders in deploying wireless network devices (such as mobile stations) within a large geographic area. To address this interest, the ACMA is considering the development of an ‘area-style’ licence to support such a cellular mobile network.
The ACMA is yet to determine which licensing arrangements could apply in the longer term to support an ‘area wide’ type of licence. However, the ACMA is proposing a trial ‘private park’ arrangement in a defined geographic area in the Pilbara region with mining, transport and other infrastructure entities. The private park would provide participants with a radiocommunications licence authorising the operation of services in a specified frequency range and geographic area.
It is important to note that although the term ‘private park’ denotes some form of exclusivity, it is the ACMA’s view that an offer to participate in the private park should be extended to a number of industry participants who operate within a specified geographic area. Consequently, the exclusivity suggested by the arrangement would apply to an industry rather than to a single entity.
The purpose of the private park trial is twofold. It would allow participants to undertake the necessary testing of equipment and technologies. It could also assist the ACMA in determining whether spectrum sharing and coordination agreements can be negotiated between industry players in close geographic proximity within the framework of the private park. Some of the reasons supporting this approach include:
- the possibility of shared infrastructure for various operations/services
- synergies in industry operations and communications environments with focus on mobile telephony technologies
- increased demand for larger bandwidths of spectrum to support wireless operations balanced with the availability of mobile spectrum in regional and remote areas
- the development of coordination arrangements that would enable industry to determine its own deployment requirements and interference management techniques
- links into the ACMA’s broader project objectives to determine spectrum requirements and arrangements to support smart infrastructure technologies, applications and services.
4.3.4 Strategies for mobile broadband
One of the key challenges facing spectrum regulators around the world is spectrum for mobile broadband services. It is acknowledged that mobile broadband services are a key economic enabler and that demand for these services is increasing exponentially, resulting in demand for additional spectrum. However, this needs to be considered in the context of the broader communications environment and the requirements of other users of the spectrum.
As described in section 5.9, consideration of this issue dates back to ACMA’s inception and is likely to continue for a number of years. Given Australia is traditionally a technology adopter, this issue cannot be considered in isolation from international activities. To this end, the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) will be a key event which will influence how the issue of additional spectrum for mobile broadband will be considered in Australia and around the world, The ACMA will work closely with stakeholders and the wider regulatory community to ensure that Australia’s interests are represented.
While specific frequency bands will be considered in the preparatory process for WRC-15, it is envisaged that allocation of specific additional frequency bands for mobile broadband services in Australia will require further consultation beyond 2015.
4.3.5 400 MHz implementation
The 400 MHz band is used for a diverse range of services, including land mobile and fixed (P-P and point-to-multipoint), radiolocation and amateur services. The level of congestion within this band has been steadily increasing for some time and in response to this in conjunction with requests from industry and users of the band, the ACMA commenced a comprehensive review the band in 2008.
A key outcome of the review is the move to implement harmonised spectrum arrangements for government agencies. Work is currently underway to implement the outcomes of the ACMA’s review in order to finalise transition to the new arrangements by 31 December 2015 in areas where congestion is defined, and by 31 December 2018 outside of these areas.
The transition process consists of a phased approach, implementing:
- measures to address congestion
- harmonised government spectrum
- new arrangements in 450–470 MHz.
The ACMA recognises that in the short to medium term there will be some disruption caused to licensees by implementing the outcomes of the 400 MHz review. The ACMA believes that these arrangements will improve the efficiency and effectiveness with which services are delivered in the band over the longer term and aims to minimise disruptions as much as possible. The new arrangements will also enable expanded use and flexibility, which will in turn maximise the public benefit arising from use of this spectrum.
4.3.6 Transition of wireless audio transmitters from the digital dividend
The ACMA is supporting the transition of users and suppliers of wireless audio transmitters from the digital dividend to other frequency bands by 31 December 2014. This work has been ongoing since the announcement of the digital dividend in 2010.
The operation of wireless audio transmitters is supported by arrangements in the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Device) Class Licence 2000 (the LIPD class licence). Wireless audio transmitters include wireless microphones and in-ear monitoring systems. They are used in a range of sectors such as entertainment, fitness, tourism, community and education.
The frequency 694–820 MHz band—the digital dividend—will no longer be available for use by wireless audio transmitters from 1 January 2015. The main frequency band available for these transmitters after that date will be the 520–694 MHz band. The ACMA has also made changes to give users access to the 1790–1800 MHz frequency band, which was previously not available to them.
In 2013, the ACMA will finalise a proposal which will require suppliers to include, with each wireless audio transmitter that can operate in the digital dividend, a brief written statement about the limitations of its use after 31 December 2014. In addition, the ACMA will also finalise a proposal to allow suppliers a three-month transition period to stop supplying such transmitters into Australia. This change will reduce the number of transmitters being supplied to Australia that are capable of operating in the digital dividend.
The ACMA has planned targeted education and outreach activities so that as many users and suppliers of wireless audio transmitters as possible are aware of the changes. The activities have been designed to complement the consumer education materials developed by wireless audio transmitter suppliers. The ACMA’s activities will include publishing fact sheets for users and suppliers, website content and a ‘subscribe to our wireless mic e-bulletin’ that updates the ACMA’s work. These activities goes beyond what would normally be undertaken for class licensees affected by regulatory changes.
As part of its spectrum management functions, the ACMA regularly reviews and monitors the suitability of spectrum arrangements, technology developments and international arrangements. In 2013–14, the ACMA’s work program that will consider which additional frequency bands may be available for wireless audio transmitters in the future.
- Reviewing existing limitations in the LIPD class licence on wireless audio transmitters within the 520–694 MHz band. Current limitations have their origins in analog television and need to be reviewed to reflect digital television planning parameters.
- Considering co-channel arrangements for wireless audio transmitters operating in broadcasting channels at major venues.
- Depending on the outcomes of the review of the 803–960 MHz frequency band, reviewing the use of lower digital dividend guard band (694–703 MHz) and mid- band gap (748–758 MHz) for wireless audio transmitters.
Subscribing to the ACMA’s monthly e-bulletin is an easy way to keep informed about the ACMA’s work on wireless audio transmitters.
4.3.7 High frequency direction-finding project
The ACMA has been allocated new policy proposal funding for the establishment of a new high-frequency direction-finding (HF DF) and monitoring system including the relocation of very high frequency/ultra high frequency (VHF/UHF) facilities in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The government is providing $10.5 million over four years (including $9.2 million in capital funding) for this project.
Under the Act, the ACMA is responsible for managing the radiofrequency spectrum so that its benefit to the community is both maximised and shared equitably, while interference is limited to an acceptable level. HF DF and HF monitoring are essential tools for interference management in the HF band.
A HF DF and monitoring system provides the ACMA with capability to resolve harmful interference to Australian HF services that originates from international sources. Reliance and dependence on HF for organisations, such as Airservices Australia and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), or emergency services, such as the police, State Emergency Service (SES) and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, is significant and crucial to the safe operation of aircraft and vessels in accordance with international and national requirements.
The existing HF DF and monitoring system was build over 20 years ago and is at the end of its serviceable life. The ACMA’s ability to maintain uninterrupted operation of the HF DF system is compromised by the unreliability of the existing equipment and difficulties with adequate support level from vendors. The establishment of a new HF DF and monitoring system is necessary for the ACMA to fully discharge its spectrum management functions for the HF band, and to continue assisting HF users, such as Airservices Australia, AMSA, police, Defence and organisations involved in providing public safety services (for example, during floods or bush fires).
The project commenced in July 2013 and will be delivered over two years. It will include installation of new HF DF and monitoring facilities at Bullsbrook (WA) and Quoin Ridge (Tas). HF DF will be installed at Darwin (NT) and Brisbane (Qld), involving the establishment of new receiver sites near at both locations and the relocation of UHF/VHF monitoring facilities in those cities.
The new HF DF and monitoring system will provide long-term (20 years) assistance and protection from interference within and outside to Australia to all users who use high-frequency spectrum, including the aviation, broadcasting and transport sectors, the emergency services community, Defence and Australians living or working in regional and remote areas.