back to article Carriers vs cops: Australia's spectrum conundrum

Australia, like other countries subsidising the broadcast and consumer electronics industries rolling out digital TV, is now preparing to auction the old analogue TV spectrum for the best price possible. The obvious answer is a spectrum auction, the obvious customer the telco industry. That has the tech press wildly imagining …


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  1. Pac-man

    Easy, lease back option

    The emergency services owns 1/3 of the bandwidth, rents half of it to the telcos and in an emergency they whip it out of the telco system and use it exclusively.

    Whether its two or three competitors is irrelevant, it still gives Telcos far too much control.

    1. Dagg Silver badge

      Small problem with cost

      To have the sort of gear that can be used this way will cost. VHF frequencies are the best for emergency services use and with the problems that australia has with fire and floods the emergency services should have the best country wide system. This would allow each individual state service work and coordinate across state borders

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Seems to me you've answered your own question. If they divvy it up between three carriers, they can't really auction it meaningfully. If they only allocate two 40Mhz slots, they get a bidding war.

    Personally I say you don't want simple landrush allocation. Instead force the carriers to have to bid down service costs to the customer, and limit their access on a yearly basis so any failure to perform, and they lose access and thus money. Eg allocate via bandwidth and service - not up front bets.

  3. brainwrong

    Sod the telco's

    The emergency services should be given what they need.

    1) Can the telco's not make it work in 35 MHz blocks?

    2) If not, the telco's should take thier own advice and negotiate amongst themselves for access to the larger blocks.

    1. TakeTheSkyRoad
      Thumb Up

      Re: Sod the telco's

      Agreed !! But with a different take.

      Auction at 40Mhz, 40Mhz & 20Mhz.... with 2 high and 1 low speed band then there'll be much more incentive for the telcos to bid against each other. Bit more of an auction then !

      With 3 equal bands going and 3 major players after them sounds to me that they'll amicably agree a bid amount over dinner with the regulator for their banefit. Not suprised they want to push for 3 40Mhz bands.... yes, we each bid blah $$... what's that ? nobody else is bidding and there's 3 bands up for grabs ?.... what a happy coincidence !

      Lobbyists should be banned/shot (in that order), modern bribery

  4. Aussie Brusader

    If it was my choice

    I'd invest in the emergency services and give them 40MHz.

    The communications carriers can bid for the remaining 2 slots.

    Lets see what it's really worth to them.

    Emergency services give back to the community where as the carriers only take.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Short memory

    Some of these companies have a short memory when it comes to disaster, and often little understanding of how different bands perform.

    Yes, the emergency services use a lot of spectrum in the UHF region. VHF is less critical of line-of-sight propagation though, it will bend around hills somewhat better. For the telcos, this is a "nice feature", but for emergency services, this could save a life.

    A lot of telcos seem to believe that *they* should be the means of carrying emergency traffic. Trouble is, they typically plan poorly for it. The recent floods in Brisbane put a lot of strain on the telephony network. I noticed during that my GSM phone (an old Nokia 3310) was encountering a lot of black spots at the venue. That's a mere stone throw away from the Brisbane CBD. 5 mins ride by bicycle.

    Grantham has lost all telephony services. I'll bet though they can still receive the analogue TV signals from either Toowoomba or Mt. Coot-tha though.

    Traditional telephony networks rely on centralised infrastructure, which makes them vulnerable to such disasters. This is why emergency services do not rely on cellular technology alone (in fact, they don't seem to use that at all). Radios can work simplex without any intermediate infrastructure, and this has significant benefits in these situations.

    I'm waiting with bated breath to see how much of the 50~52MHz spectrum we (amateur radio operators) will get. It would be nice to upgrade my license, and not be compressed into the tiny 300kHz wide slither that they've allocated — there's little action in the 52~54MHz part. I'll bet somehow, industry will try and demand that chunk of bandwidth even if it means copping interference from legitimate users calling "CQ DX" from abroad when the propagation opens up.

  6. Robert E A Harvey

    I don't get this

    If you want to know the wavelength of a TV band signal, go look at a TV antenna.

    Is this band really appropriate for pocket equipment?

    1. Black Betty

      Let me count the ways.

      Telescopic antena; Rubber ducky antena; Fractal antena; Antena in clothing; Vehicle mounted or luggable microcell using the VHF for a soild, terrain resistant link to civilisation.

      TV antenae are as complex (and as large) as they are because they're designed to extract a good analog signal from the air and do it with no error correction.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Just give emergency services 6MHz

    Why shouldn't emergency services get 6MHz or less.

    If 40MHz is enough to support a third of the entire population with LTE-A, surely emergency services can do with much less!

    1. Dagg Silver badge

      6Mhz not enough

      The emergency services need both voice and data and they will need multiple channels to allow them to operate across a large geographic area with no co channel or cross channel interference.

      To do what the emergency services do requires a much higher level of service than what is currently supplied to the general public.

  8. Glen Turner 666

    Dedicated spectrum looks the way to go

    The mobile phone networks didn't perform well at all in the floods. For a start they carried far too little fuel for their backup generators.

    A deeper problem is simply that telco networking gear isn't designed for emergency services pre-emption. This makes it a risky thing to push the Big Red Button. When you press the Button you run the risk of dropping the civilian network and yet not having the emergency services network come up.

    A better model would at first appear to be that emergency services handsets always preempt other calls upon congestion. But that takes us back to the problems experienced in the NSW Government Radio Network during the bushfires when water workers would use the GRN to make telephony calls on issues of no great important, but these calls would preempt those of the council workers whose bulldozers were building fire breaks.

    The other advantage of a dedicated allocation of expensive spectrum is that all the emergency services would use it. So we'd finally get an agency interworking capability beyond a few VHF and UHF voice channels and that good old standby, UHF CB.

  9. sideshow


    "carriers that price a mobile gigabtye at up to $80"

    Up to $80? Virgin charges 0.2c/KB, or $2,097 per GB. Not too long ago the rate was 1.5c/KB.

  10. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Option 3?

    If carriers want 3 x 40mhz up for auction and theres 126mhz available, then give public safety 6mhz. LTE has a 3mhz paired option (3mhz up, 3mhz downlink), this allows for 15.1mbps each way, per sector (at least here in the US, cell sites will almost always have either 3-way or 6-way sectorization, that is rather than the site broadcasting 360 degrees, it broadcasts 3 120 degree or 6 60 degree sectors.) Or, if politics prevent a single system, this could be split into 2 1.4mhz pairs each carrying 6.1mbps up and 6.1mbps down. This'd also leave 200khz up/200khz down left over for narrow band users.

    That's as much voice as they could ever need, along with as much data as they could possibly use, and quite a bit of video as long as they use something reasonable like H.2.64.

    20mhz seems VERY excessive.

  11. c0rruptd

    That bandwidth would be beautiful, thanks.

    As a volunteer bush fire fighter in Western Australia, I can attest to how terrible our current comms are... At a (relatively) recent bush fire in Roleystone (which is a nice hilly area), we had next to no working comms with anyone that we needed to talk to... Had no problem picking up other sectors of course, but hey, thats how it usually goes... =P

    I say give the emergency services what they need, and let the carriers fight over whats left. I can't see any other way of this working, as emergency services need that bandwidth yesterday in most cases. There is not time to negotiate with Telstra, Optus and (shudder) Vodafone to get that bandwidth back.

  12. Chris Miller

    Simple solution

    Auction 2 x 40Mhz + 1 x 20MHz or 1 x 40MHz + 3 x 20MHz. Then the public can be offered either a lower speed (but probably faster than current broadband for most) or a higher speed more expensive option for those that really want/need it.

    Or am I missing something?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    motorola (according to the sales rep at a recent 'critical infrastructure' expo)

    already has a 'blue-light' handset that can do H2H handset to handset but also use LTE - which is just packets on some frequency or other. During the London 2005 terror outrage GSM was stuffed, overloaded with public call attempts and some areas were ACCOLC access controlled - but few had the access token. VHF H2H didn't work, TETRA/Airwave was at that time not fully rolled-out & had incompatibilities.The 3G/UMTS band was however wide and fully open , not used & not overloaded. The best comms device would have been a cognitive radio. (We've recently got a really nice self setting up cognitive ad-hoc network based on USRP1 software radios, was actually a 6 month long student project. it worked & cost €900)

    The "Motorola" handset which seems to have a subset of cognitive is obviously where the EU is going to go, ETSI & ITU workgroups busy discussing standards. For a bush firefighting job, need vehicular based high power repeaters & bridges to any network that exists! cognitive again!

    I confess to not finding which Moto handset allegedly does LTE, their webpresence is quite divided between ETSI 2006 TDMA DMR and LTE network stuff - perhaps we can get a PR product release on El'Reg?

  14. PaulMacnicol

    Not a single mention of License free spectrum?

    Where is the part which mentions that 40Mhz of the spectrum is going to be license free? Look at how many technologies have erupted around 2.4, everything from Zigbee to Wifi to garage door openers. With new Femtocell technology there is the very real possibility that all we will need in the future is a box, an aerial, and a power supply and that IS the telecom network. The only thing standing in the way is access to free radio spectrum.

    Relying on telecom companies is simply not reliable enough in the case of a disaster, whats needed is multiple cells (including smartphones acting as mobile base stations) with multiple power options and no cables. The best part is that all this can be achieved without having to invest at all in network infrastructure - the consumer bears all the cost of installation and hardware.

    The technology is coming that will do away with the need for a telecoms carrier altogether. All that is required is some license free spectrum to kick start the development.

  15. P. Lee

    No mention of free spectrum?

    It's just more tax. Will the companies reduce their profits or pass the cost on to consumers/voters.

    Why not ask the telcos to come up with a plan for using the spectrum if it were free and allocate it to the most deserviing?

  16. -tim

    Why auction it at all?

    Since there are only 3 bidders, the best solution for the tax payers is to give 40 mhz to each of the 3 carriers for free so they don't have to recoup the cost of an inflated bidding war. Then some of the 3.5 ghz are should be used for public safety since the US had decided to go down that road and there is lots of equipment made that works in that band already.

  17. Kevin Maciunas

    Emergency Services are traditionally not pushy enough...

    First - disclaimer - I am a volunteer fire service person. A CFS officer. So this is emergency services biased.

    There is far too much high tech in the comms systems being both used, and proposed. In South Australia someone in government was sold on the idea that all-of-government comms could be implemented using a trunking radio network. So the fire service, police, ambulance, ... all use something called the GRN (a Motorola trunking radio network). This system operates in the UHF 400MHz area.

    Now, we also have hills. My own area in the Adelaide hills is, well, *hilly*. Did anyone ever consider what happens to UHF carriers in hilly areas? Apparently not. Did anyone ever consider the propagation issues when you are surrounded by 15m+ high flames - again, apparently not.

    This network is used for command and control functions. It is also woefully under-provisioned. One of our fine national carriers has the gong for running the inter-cell backhaul on the network. Apparently, more capacity can be got when needed. By some mechanism that probably involves the minister (I'm a volunteer - I don't deal with this crap). We had a fire a couple of years back where I needed to talk to what was essentially the forward command person, who was parked in a vehicle about 50m away. I could *not* get through via the GRN network - because it was over congested (computer said "no"!). I ended up leaving the appliance and walking the 50m (something of a fitness programme, no doubt part of the hidden "benefit" of using a trunking network...). The congestion arose because (amongst other things) all the busses (!!!) have GRN handsets and were calling back to HQ complaining that the road (the major freeway out of Adelaide through the hills) had just been closed by the fire service..

    Because of the parlous state of this "communications" system, we also have VHF handsets for use on the fire ground. So you can at least call the appliance you can SEE!

    Now, it would be lovely to have more channel capacity - because when it hits the fan, you need to talk RIGHT NOW. Reserving the channel capacity is basically the only feasible solution. If I need to call because my crew is in danger, I need it RIGHT BLOODY NOW. I also need it to work. When bad things happen, they happen fast and everyone wants to phone their loved ones simultaneously. Any kind of channel sharing thing will simply annoy people and cause the emergency services delay and angst. You set the capacity aside and it hardly gets used. Big deal. The lustful eyes of the telcos/TV/Radio/whatever people just need to be kept off the channel.

    Emergency services should not have to go cap-in-hand to the agency responsible. They should not even have to lay money on the table. This is basic infrastructure that a civil society actually NEEDS to function. The money makers just need to accept that not everything should be sold off.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant.

  18. Jerry

    I work in the Emergency Services Industry in Australia

    The Emergency Services in my location (Western Australia) have more bandwidth than they coud ever hope to manage.

    Suitable bandwidth is dependent on location. Capital cities location can work with higher frequencies. Country locations require lower frequencies for long range transmission.

    For decades Emergency Services have had priority on frequencies that meet therir operational requirements.

    Throwing in TV frequencies will be a major challenge for Emergency Services to adapt to. They have a several year to decades response time to new technology. Trying to fit TV frequencies into their specific requirements will be a major problem.

    Far better for them to use their frequencies more efficiently by using new technology. But wait 10-20 years for that to happen.

  19. Stuart Duel

    Not just emergency services

    It is my understanding that the new national railways wireless communications network requires a dedicated chunk of this spectrum. There has already been considerable good work and expenditure testing and preparing to move the current fragmented railway communications systems to one national standard but this is now at risk because the Government is listening to the wrong people about how to divvy up this new money pot.

    1. Kevin Maciunas

      Ahh - there's the problem

      *money pot*

  20. LaeMing

    While I recognise Emergency Services Personel are far too ethical to do so,

    wouldn't it be nice if their services could be denied to anyone known to be involved in intefering with their service to the whole community for nothing more than personal gain.

    "What, your big mansion in the forest is burning down with you in it? Where? Sorry, I missed that, the comms is breaking up. Fssthhhhsssshhhhssshhhhh."

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