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Ofcom has kept up well with the challenges of the UK 4G PPDR network

by Kane Mumford — last modified Nov 21, 2016 11:56 AM

As the UK broadband PPDR network is called into question by parliament, regulators around the world will be looking to the project to see what lessons they can learn.

Vincent Kennedy, Motorola Solutions' general manager in Europe, told this week’s House of Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing on the UK emergency services network that what his firm is trying to deliver, along with EE, is the way of the future for critical communications across the world.

There is some truth to this, but it is more likely that hybrid solutions involving existing TETRA-based networks will be adopted, at least across Europe, from what we’ve heard.

The UK project is beset by delays and looks certain to cost the taxpayer dearly, while funding Motorola R&D that it will be able to export to other countries. These could include France and Spain who are believed to be considering a similar project. 

Whatever the end result, UK regulator Ofcom has done a lot to smooth the transition. While one source close to the ESN project told us that “Ofcom should have kept some dedicated spectrum in 700 MHz for the network” - it said in March it wouldn’t be doing this - the decision made perfect sense, given that the ESN project was already underway.

Indeed, the European mood with regard to broadband PPDR has been favouring “flexible harmonisation” for some time now, and the UK’s ESN operating on EE’s 700 MHz network should not damage equipment-makers' economies of scale or present problems for standards bodies.

Ofcom also acted quickly to clear the way for ground-to-air communications in 2340-2350 MHz, making possible essential communications between aerial and ground units.

Ofcom is supportive of EE's request to upgrade its 800 MHz/2.6 GHz and 1800 MHz licences in order to permit the use of uplink frequencies as a backhaul path to connect emergency service network "nomadic base stations” – or “gateway devices” – operating at 1899.9-1909.9 MHz.

Using nomadic base stations and even drones to provide coverage are bold innovations and Ofcom has been speedy in showing the will to encourage them as they happen. One could argue that this is a special case, given the critical nature of the ESN project, but that does not detract from the fact that the regulator has played its part in getting this huge project off the ground.

Added to this is the potential for a spectrum dividend of sorts that comes with freeing the 390 MHz band for commercial use - if the UK Ministry of Defence plays ball, that is.

With the ESN, Ofcom has done what regulators always look to do but often find difficult. It has kept up with the pace of change.

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Kane Mumford

Kane Mumford
Kane Mumford writes on spectrum policy, business and the arts. Before joining the PolicyTracker team, Kane covered private equity at the industry trade magazine Real Deals. He has contributed articles on music, drama and comedy to the Scotsman, the Edinburgh Evening News and various other publications. After graduating with an NUJ-accredited honours degree in journalism from Edinburgh Napier University, Kane spent time working as a copy editor at Babel Media and the Royal Bank of Scotland.


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