Operating in harmony
Philip Mason talks to TCCA vice chairman and director of broadband spectrum Jeppe Jepsen about the benefits of harmonisation, and the case for giving public agencies their own spectrum.
I’ve been involved with TCCA since the very beginning 25 years ago, during the TETRA MoU Association days. At that time, I was preparing the contribution of Motorola Solutions - who I still work for - to the organisation, and obviously, we’re still involved now. It’s always been important that we contribute to the work carried out by the Association.
In terms of my current work, I was recently given the honour of being elected vice chairman. The benefit of TCCA as far as I’m concerned is the way that we’ve always been able to bring both user organisations and suppliers together. That’s been hugely beneficial to all parties over the years.
You’re also director of broadband spectrum for the Association. What were the origins of that role, and how has the work progressed up to the present day?
Again, going back to the beginning of TCCA - and of TETRA - it was important for users to have dedicated networks on dedicated spectrum. This was because they needed to have as much control as possible in order to deliver a trusted service to the frontline.
The situation is exactly the same now, but with conversations taking place around ‘next generation’ broadband technologies. In terms of my role in relation to that, I drove a lot of the lobbying on behalf of both users and suppliers, in order to harmonise LTE spectrum for public safety.
That has now been accomplished globally, with both 700 and 800 MHz listed as spectrum for broadband PPDR. Regionally - for instance in Europe - we have 700 MHz listed as the primary band for emergency services, alongside parts of 450-470 MHz as well as parts of 410-430 MHz.
Having said all that, it’s still up to individual nation states to decide if they want to allocate spectrum to a particular service. Spectrum is a scarce resource and the competition is brutal.
How important is spectrum harmonisation in relation to interoperability?
Interoperability – the way TCCA understands it – is about users being able to communicate together. That requires common harmonised spectrum, and common standard.
It is also about testing and certifying equipment - infrastructure and devices - from multiple suppliers, thereby enabling a multi-vendor market. TETRA IOP is probably the most successful interoperability scheme around.
Going back to a previous point, why is it beneficial for countries to allocate spectrum to public safety organisations in that way? What’s your preferred model going into the future as more nationwide networks are built?
Personally, I’ve always taken the view that public providers should be given dedicated spectrum for PPDR - which is not to say of course they have to build the network themselves. One key reason is that having dedicated spectrum would give them something to negotiate with other than money during discussions with commercial network operators.
The other side of that is if governments do decide to auction off everything, the only negotiating tools left are - again - money, or regulation. Regulation tends to be the last thing any government wants to do nowadays, while attempting to simply leverage large sums of cash is generally a bad idea. We’re all tax-payers, after all.
The obvious example of a government giving public safety its own spectrum is in the US with FirstNet…
It is, and they were able to use that spectrum as a negotiation tool. It’s been a fantastic thing for them in terms of the way the network has been constructed and rolled out.
There are still opportunities to make similar decisions in other parts of the world, particularly given that spectrum has already been harmonised for use by PPDR. A clear stumbling block however is how small - and slow moving - the public safety market is, compared to the commercial segments. This makes it difficult to attract chipset manufacturers. In Europe, PPDR does have dedicated spectrum in parts of 700 MHz, but no chipsets for the devices.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the US is that from day-one they’ve said that they want to keep their LMR systems in place when it comes to voice. That’s a key difference when it comes to what they’ve been able to do.
Are there mission critical verticals other than public safety where governments have already designated spectrum?
The utilities sector has been very active to get dedicated spectrum in 400 MHz. Ireland has allocated spectrum in 410-430 for that sector, for instance.
What conversations are TCCA currently involved in around spectrum? What needs to be accomplished over the course of this year?
Right now, TCCA is starting a new ‘450 MHz guidance’ task force. It is aimed at discussing interoperability where one country might allocate 2x5 MHz to PPDR, while a neighboring country allocates the same spectrum to a different service, such as utilities. How is cross-border interoperability achieved? It is very early days in the task force, so expect some results in the Autumn.
Alongside spectrum harmonisation, what else has TCCA contributed to the ongoing development of critical broadband communications?
One of our key contributions was to help develop a roadmap in collaboration with both users and the wider industry. Through our Broadband Industry Group, we’ve been integral to conversations around functionality and standardisation in 3GPP, as well as when features might be available in commercially operated networks.
That work has also highlighted just how long TETRA is likely to be around for. Beyond the fact that the move to broadband is proving to be comparatively slow, organisations will also need time to get used to the new technology, re-write operating procedures and re-train their staff.
My prediction is that TETRA will continue well into 2030, and at Motorola Solutions we have contracts lasting until way after that. You can’t just switch off TETRA the same day you switch on broadband.
Going back to your involvement in TCCA, how would you say the organisation’s initial successes shaped the industry as it exists today?
Arguably its greatest contribution is how the Association has brought the sector together. If you look at the European market up until 1994 for instance, everything was very fragmented, with countries using hundreds of smaller networks which didn’t work together. TETRA completely changed that situation, and it would not have been what it is without TCCA.
Another achievement is the way which it has united the industry. We were galvanised at the beginning by competing technology such as TETRAPOL, and that sense of needing to succeed together has never gone away.
Jeppe will be retiring from Motorola Solutions in the Spring of this year, after almost 41 years. He will continue to represent the company in TCCA.
He will be one of the presenters for the forthcoming ETSI/TCCA ‘TETRA to 2035 and beyond’ webinar taking place on June 24.
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Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
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