British Association of Public Safety Officials / BAPCO Journal - Knowledge exchange by and for public safety professionals

British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials
Advanced search

You are in:

Public safety, comms and spectrum: position paper

24 February, 2014

British APCO requirements to assure mission critical communications and harmonised spectrum for interoperability of UK public safety responders.

Executive summary

British APCO is the only independent body representing the interests of those who use public safety communications. HM Government, through its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), is in the process of procuring a replacement for the existing trunk-based radio (TETRA) network. The intention is to change the Emergency Services Network (ESN) to a 4G/LTE technology platform – a move which British APCO fully supports. It is a significant step to change the technology platform as well as potentially the supplier(s).

In the short term, British APCO believes that a smooth migration is vital in order to minimise the impact to public safety responders and the communities they serve. There is a general consensus that not all of the existing public safety voice features such as mission critical push-to-talk  will be standardised in time for the start of the ESN rollout. Implementation of the standards may take up to a further two years.  A smooth migration therefore depends on either parallel running of the two technologies (until the appropriate standards are in place) or some form of interim service. Either way, the move to 4G/LTE will require extensive testing to prove ability to perform in the operational environment.

In the longer term, British APCO believes that sufficient harmonised 700MHz spectrum should be made available for public safety use in order to cater for both additional capacity and enhanced interoperability. Sufficient controls need to be put in place to allow for robust pre-emption to guarantee access to mission critical communications at all times or lives will be lost.

If the spectrum is sold off or leased without such controls with the risk determined by the commercial operators, there is the potential for commercial imperatives to take precedence over public safety user requirements. At a future time of need this could jeopardise the ability to provide the necessary resilience, coverage and capacity as described in British APCOs ‘4Cs’ model with no guarantee of an adequate long term solution.


British APCO is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that seeks to enhance the use of public safety technologies and to foster understanding between users, Government and commercial suppliers. British APCO worked with the Public Safety Radio Communications Programme to develop user requirements for the TETRA system introduced by a previous Government in the 1990s. Today, British APCO maintains a close interest in the replacement national mobile communications service or Emergency Services Network (ESN) to assure public safety needs.  This paper sets out what British APCO believes is the best position for public safety in the UK in the short and longer term following wide consultation with industry and users. It addresses future needs for mission critical voice and data (MCV and MCD) and associated spectrum to ensure a guaranteed service, however the ESN is provisioned.


The UK public safety sector needs to operate on a reliable communications platform for both voice and data services. This is a pivotal and critical time and it is imperative that there is a clear understanding of what is required and the resultant risks if needs are not met. It’s important for public safety users and commercial suppliers to have full sight of the total service solution to avoid any unnecessary cost of customised/interim terminals and the additional migration work once a final spectrum solution has been secured. Public safety users are dependent on a resilient infrastructure and geographically based coverage with sufficient capacity and a guaranteed availability of spectrum. This is particularly critical when all or part of this public communications network becomes disabled or ineffective, or it is required to deal with a heavy increase in usage due to planned events (such as the Olympics), or indeed unplanned major incidents.

Assured mission critical voice (MCV) has been well provided on the current TETRA platform but British APCO fully supports the ESMCP approach to drive down the cost of providing the ESN and migration to a 4G/LTE platform. This will realise savings by not having a dedicated network for public safety users provided that the public network can meet the required objectives. As part of this solution is highly likely to be provided, at least initially, over commercial networks it must be recognised that there are associated risks. Commercial providers need to balance public safety needs with their wider customer base. This produces potentially conflicting business models and interests. Additionally, some of the user requirements for public safety mission critical voice are not yet available on a 4G/LTE platform. Unless a proprietary solution (which British APCO does not recommend) is put in place, these will not be available until the relevant 3GPP standards have been set and conforming equipment has been delivered. Timescales for the standards for public safety features are not certain but believed to be realistically achievable by 2018 with implementation by 2020.

Future needs of UK public safety users for mission critical voice and data (MCV and MCD)

(1)        4Cs - British APCO has developed the ‘4Cs’model (below) which summarises the key features it believes should underpin public safety communications and allow it to function effectively as part of the critical national infrastructure.

British APCOs ‘4Cs’ model

i.            Criticality – the service has to be available, secure and resilient with a priority guarantee ofexclusivity over sharing at any time of need. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. 365 days a year.

ii.            Capability – it is vital to maintain and enhance existing voice functionality to develop and improve the data services. Additionally, the functionality should be delivered via the 3GPPLTE standardisation process to provide for continuity of secure and reliable voice and data communications.

iii.            Capacity – to ensure sufficient network capacity that allows for ‘business as usual’ operations and critical/major events, as well as flexibility for expansion to cater for future growth and to deliver voice and high speed data on demand (see section 2).

iv.            Coverage – on and off-network communications access needs to be provided and available when required, regardless of terrain to guarantee that MCV and MCD can be delivered from any location.

The 4Cs are wrapped within the context of a further ‘2C’s - sufficient control by Government is critical and it is recognised that there are cost restraints with current and future austerity but that should not be used as a reason to under achieve the performance issues. The critical issue is minimising the premium paid above for a comparable service to the public and maintaining value for money into the future.

(2)            Additional capacity - It is widely recognised that data has become mission critical within some parts of our emergency services. This will become increasingly critical to saving lives on the ground, and customer expectations will continue to rise in terms of the way data services are delivered. Although ‘data crunch’ projections vary, all indicate a significant increase in the required capacity of public networks over the coming years. Analysys Mason claims (Public Safety mobile broadband and spectrum needs, Analysys Mason for the Tetra and Critical Communications Association, March 2010) that public safety communication systems will be insufficient to deliver broadband communications. LEWP (LEWP requirements document (2011)) captured eight data-centric categories by public safety that drive this demand (video streaming, situational awareness, facial recognition, patient record access, machine-to-machine data collection/sharing and telemetry, picture information collection/distribution, remote admin/management, automated control systems data exchange). British APCO believes that the planned migration to public safety broadband communications is the best way to achieve these data needs provided that the obligations within the ‘4Cs’ model are met.

(3)            Interoperability - It is expected that the World Radio Conference in 2015 (commonly referred to as WRC-15) may identify 700MHz suitable for mobile broadband services and confirm the exact frequency range, some of which could be identified for use by the public safety community. In reality, 700MHz spectrum is dependent on approval for clearance of existing broadcast use of the band, which is not expected until 2018. British APCO believes that spectrum provision should be made within the 700MHz band to support on-going global harmonisation and associated interoperability whilst at the same time providing public safety users with the future capacity and capability they need. British APCO further believes that the UK Government should strongly support the drive towards a harmonised portion of the 700MHz band which is reserved for public safety use.

Spectrum options

Looking to the future, British APCO takes the view that the Government should provide sufficient control over use of spectrum for public safety responders. This would offer advantages of both spectral and economic efficiency. Public Safety and commercial users could share spectrum whilst reserving means of effecting direct control if a commercially contracted service failed to deliver the 4Cs operational and technical requirements. The full spectrum road map is incomplete at present and this adds another dimension to the risk register going forward for public safety.

There is a one-off opportunity with a second digital dividend coming as a consequence of decisions expected at WRC-15 on mobile use of 700MHz spectrum. British APCO believes that the Government should make adequate provision in the packaging and release of the 700MHz band, and should direct Ofcom to provide sufficient guarantees for spectrum that safeguards public safety needs. It needs to be considered whether the licence conditions should apply to all or part of the spectrum concerned and how the extent of obligations may be varied in the future to extend capacity. This would not mean that public safety users have exclusive use of this spectrum but that, when shared with commercial users, spectrum can be immediately called upon when required for guaranteed use with absolute priority rights by public safety responders.

This public safety spectrum usage should also be harmonised with other countries, in particular within the EU, and preferably in other continents as well. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT)  have identified (ECC Report 199, User Requirements and Spectrum Needs for future Broadband PPDR systems, CEPT ECC, May 2013) that a minimum of 2x10MHz of harmonised 700MHz spectrum is the most viable option and will be needed for public safety broadband data - this excludes capacity for voice, air to ground, direct mode and proximity services. Furthermore, the group CEPT FM49 who are charged with identifying suitable harmonised spectrum for future European public safety are anticipated to advocate 700MHz. Its allocation at country-level relies on ESMCP’s clearly defined service level agreements (SLAs).

700MHz has the distinct advantage for delivering economically wide area coverage coupled with better in-building penetration characteristics to deliver the required level of rural and underground coverage. This represents a unique opportunity to design effective and lower cost infrastructures and handheld devices as an extension to existing broadband networks for multiple suppliers with economies of scale and innovation. The favoured band plan also provides the most globally available sub-band other than the USA. This availability represents a compelling scale of opportunity to reduce costs to the public sector which cannot be matched by 800MHz usage alone.

The London School of Economics (LSE)  estimates (Socioeconomic value of Mission Critical Mobile Applications for Public Safety in the UK:2x10MHz in 700MHz, LSE, Nov 2013) an annual £5 billion of socioeconomic benefit generated through public safety utilisation of 2x10MHz in the 700MHz band in the UK. Against these safety and efficiency benefits, LSE weighed a one-off economic gain of £300m to £1.1Bn revenue range to HM Government for the sale of this spectrum based on a per MHz cost per POP (a measure of the number of people covered by each megahertz of spectrum) benchmarked from international auctions of 700MHz and 800MHz spectrum and from UK auctions to date.

Other alternatives do not offer the same level of confidence. There is insufficient 400MHz spectrum for an effective broadband service and the impracticality of 400MHz antennas and Multiple Input-Multiple Output (MIMO) capable radios limits portable reception and data rates as well as limiting the handset market to a small market in Europe with reduced economies of scale.

The 800MHz band is currently allocated to commercial carriers. A report by WIK-Consult (The need for PPDR Broadband Spectrum in the bands below 1GHz, WIK-Consult, Oct 2013) recommends that public safety broadband requirements cannot be met by relying exclusively on commercial networks as they are currently installed. Commercial networks typically do not fulfill these 4Cs requirements today. Going forward, the commercial networks would need to comply with the stringent 4Cs needs and SLAs of the public safety minority user group - about 2% of the projected user base. Should commercial networks be chosen to deliver the public safety requirement, there is a risk of mobile network operators being driven by the market majority of the competitive consumer space and delivery for public safety services being largely driven by consumer trends. This will inadvertently leave public safety services at risk resulting in solutions that may not be fit-for-purpose: no pre-emption and lower service availability. Research by the Henley Business School (Benefits of mission-critical mobile broadband to UK Police Service, Henley Business School, J JJohur, 2013) estimated in the context of frontline policing in the UK that for each reduction of one per cent in network service availability there is a potential socioeconomic cost to society of £1.6bn. Also, with the exponential growth in data traffic, it will become increasingly difficult for carriers to reserve capacity for public safety use. More positive control of 700MHz spectrum ensures a minimum guaranteed service for the future, however the ESN is provisioned.

Summary of the British APCO position

British APCO believes that there are two fundamental requirements for public safety responders:

1.         Short-term assured mission critical voice (MCV)  

Requirements for MCV must be clearly defined in the Emergency Services Network (ESN) Platform being developed by the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP). This work must include specific consideration of the need for MCV to be available, uninterrupted and undiminished (e.g. in the event of widespread and protracted failure of the mains electricity supply).

In the short term, British APCO is seeking tight monitoring and control with rigorous KPIs and robust pre-emption of the next generation platform to assure MCV and maintain the values highlighted in British APCOs 4Cs model. Reserving the ability to effect direct control, reduces any risk to the current service following failure to deliver at a time of need. It is imperative that a smooth migration from TETRA to LTE is delivered in order to provide continuity of secure and reliable voice communications and the associated functionality.

2.         Long-term additional spectrum capacity and harmonisation

Confirmation of agreement by Government to identify and manage sufficient harmonised spectrum with associated public safety conditions in the 700MHz band on eventual availability of this spectrum.

The British APCO focus with respect to spectrum is on persuading Government to confirm that Ofcom must have an approach for future harmonisation within the 700MHz band (between 694MHz and 790MHz) and that 700MHz is allocated for public and private use effectively under the control of the Government. We need to ensure that UK public safety needs are adequately safeguarded following the expected ‘change of use’ at WRC-15.

If the interim approach by the ESMCP to deliver the ESN using commercial 800MHz networks and services is unsuccessful in delivering user requirements, the lowest risk approach is then for Government to retain adequate control of sufficient 700MHz spectrum. This will keep options open for alternative delivery mechanisms such as a supplementary public safety resilient, reliable network in addition to the commercial broadband network.

British APCO believes that the position set out in this paper is in the best interests of the UK and public safety users and welcomes their continued support to influence Officials.

To find out more about British APCO, click here.

Headlines from our related publications

To Receive a FREE news bulletin simply enter your email address below

To Receive a FREE news bulletin simply enter your email address below


"Are you confident the Emergency Services Network will be delivered successfully and on time?"