Following the WRC’s 2012 spectrum decision, the European Commission asked the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) to develop technical conditions for the 694-790 MHz (700 MHz) frequency band. This aimed at harmonising Europe’s use of wireless broadband for the provision of electronic communications services, including use by Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) services such as fire departments, health services, etc. The Commission asked the technical conditions to ensure protection from disruptions within the band and in adjacent bands, including interference with broadcasting and Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) services. As a result, CEPT’s Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) adopted Report 53 in November 2014, suggesting channeling arrangements for the band comprising of two 30 MHz blocks and a 20 MHz supplemental downlink in the duplex gap between them. The implementation of the PPDR in the 700 MHz band was stated to be a national decision and the report did not prescribe any concrete frequency arrangements for the provision of broadband PPDR (BB-PPDR). Later, a 2015 ECC Report - Harmonised conditions and spectrum bands for the implementation of future European Broadband Public Protection and Disaster Relief (BB-PPDR) systems - provided member states with five frequency arrangement options. The report confirmed its vision of “flexible harmonisation” for the provision of BB-PPDR services on the 700 MHz band. The concept involves: a) a common standard (i.e. LTE and its evolutions); b) harmonised tuning range(s), yet “national flexibility to decide how much spectrum and which specific frequency ranges should be designated for BB-PPDR networks” in accordance with national needs; c) national flexibility to choose among different implementation models on the use of the spectrum – commercial network infrastructure, dedicated (government owned or contracted) network infrastructure, or hybrid solutions with partly dedicated and partly commercial network infrastructure.
At the WRC-15 BB-PPDR became one of the most salient agenda items. It also surfaced competing cross-national and cross-sectoral positions. For example, the UK regulator, Ofcom, backed by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), opposed dedicated spectrum allocation for BB-PPDR1. As expressed in the Consultation on the UK preparations for the World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 (WRC-15), Ofcom “support[ed] a model that enables the UK, at a national level, to identify a range of different frequency bands, which include[d] the potential use of established commercial networks.” Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France was reported to be “the first European administration to publicly disclose its preference for managing spectrum in order to accommodate the critical communications industry”.2 Thus, while the outcomes of WRC-15 pleased the critical communications sector by encouraging states to harmonise frequency ranges for PPDR and to consider the 694-894 MHz band for BB-PPDR, public safety and emergency services providers have not been guaranteed a dedicated spectrum.
It remains to be seen to what extent the digital terrestrial broadcasters will be affected by the technical “flexible harmonisation” of the 700 MHz band in Europe. Broadcasters have expressed their concerns about possible technical disruption as a result of BB-PPDR spectrum allocation option that would allow the use of the lower guard band3 and interfere with channel 48 in 686-694 MHz.
1 Dugie Standeford, European regulators and telcos set out WRC-15 wishlist, PolicyTracker, 03/11/2015
2 Toby Youell, France dedicates 2x8 MHz in 700 MHz band to PPDR, PolicyTracker, 03/07/2015
3 Toby Youell, Europe’s technical authority rejects 2 x 10 MHz BB-PPDR option in 700 MHz centre gap, PolicyTracker, 12/11/2015