Police cite Christchurch quakes in radio claim

Emergency services argue for a slice of valuable 700MHz spectrum

Communication issues arising from the Christchurch earthquakes have been highlighted as emergency service agencies make their case for part of the 700MHz band of radio spectrum to be dedicated to public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) broadband applications.

In its submission to the Digital Dividend debate, the Emergency Telecommunications Services Steering Group (ETSSG) says that failure to dedicate a small portion of the 700MHz spectrum to PPDR services now while the opportunity exists is likely to have a severe and long-lasting impact on the provision of such services in New Zealand.

“As the experience in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake showed, network resources may become so constrained that only limited service can be provided across commercial networks,” the ETSSG says.

“It must be noted that commercial networks, in general, are not designed to cope with the demands that are created by large-scale emergency situations.”

The agencies have agreed that 10MHz of spectrum (2.5MHz of paired FDD spectrum) is required to provide mission-critical broadband emergency service radio communications.

The ETSSG chairman Viv Rickard, the deputy commissioner of Police, says in a covering letter that radio spectrum is the life-blood of two-way radio networks for mission-critical communications.

“There is ample evidence of network congestion being caused by too many call start attempts for the networks to handle, which in turn impacts on the ability of emergency first-responders to access the networks in the event that such commercial networks are their primary form of communication,” the submission says.

Rickard draws attention to three key issues that PPDR and public safety organisations consider underly the national debate over the allocation of the digital dividend spectrum. They are:

• The pending decision by Australian authorities on the allocation of spectrum for PPDR broadband allocations and its relevance to New Zealand.

• The scope of economic analyses used to estimate the commercial value of the spectrum to be allocated.

• The scope of the consultation process and timing suggested by the Minister of Economic Development for the finalisation of allocation decisions.

The ETSSG was established by Cabinet in 2006 to promote a whole-of-government approach to emergency communications. It is a multi-agency group, which includes a working group of radio-communication experts. These include representatives from the ambulance sector, Department of Conservation, Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Biosecurity New Zealand), Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Ministery of Fisheries, NZ Customs Service, NZ Fire Service, NZ Police and NZ Defence Force.

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