On the brink of disasters: the crucial need for PPDR spectrum

Vice chair of TCCA’s Critical Communications Broadband Group, Luz Fernández del Rosal, makes the case for the shared used of spectrum in the 470-694 MHz range in order to benefit public safety.

Extreme weather events causing catastrophes are becoming increasingly common. This includes severe floods around the world, such as those in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005, and several European countries like Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands affected in the summer of 2021. There were also floods in Pakistan and the Philippines at the beginning of 2023.

Floods will still be happening ten years from now. There will be fatalities due to drowning, people wounded, isolated at home, and in danger. Numerous cities could be affected at the same time, with damaged property and uncountable material losses. The same urgent and coordinated emergency response from rescue and security forces will be triggered everywhere around the world, independent of where the disaster hits.

We depend on first responders when disaster hits. Rescue and emergency services, police officers and firefighters arrive first and coordinate efforts to save as many lives as possible and minimise losses. Just taking floods as an example, that could include fatalities, drivers trapped in their cars drifting away with the water, and people waiting to be rescued from roof tops. It could include missing people, and imminent peril of the water level increasing in the next days and even hours. In these circumstances, the emergency services will arrive first to our rescue.

The question is, what will their work look like ten years from now? Will there be autonomous drones delivering real-time high-definition video streams of the affected area, with infrared cameras to locate people in need? Or police officers equipped with body-worn cameras that control rooms can control remotely?

Firefighters equipped with multiple sensors to monitor their vital data and the environment around them? Rescue services with intelligent ambulances, able to send vital data to the nearest hospital, and access special advice remotely from medical personnel in that hospital?

Could we see all first responders having smartphones, tablets or augmented reality glasses able to exchange data, photographs, fingerprints, satellite images, building plans, precise position data or viable traffic routes in real time? Will control rooms be supported by artificial intelligence to extract information and enhanced situational awareness out of a massive amount of data?

All these communication solutions will be critical for their missions. Therefore, they must be available, reliable and secure anywhere and at any time they are needed, even during severe flooding and when commercial communication infrastructure has been wiped out. This will only be possible if spectrum is available.

The future is now. First responders already use and need those technologies every day. Nevertheless, commercial off-the-shelf mobile data and video services do not meet the high reliability and security requirements of mission-critical users.

Critical communication users from public safety, utilities and transport need resilient mobile broadband networks and services for their everyday work already, today. Mobile broadband communication is critical for all of them.

The introduction of mission-critical mobile broadband requires available frequency spectrum. Moreover, this is the case irrespective of the chosen network deployment model. The access to spectrum empowers mission-critical network operators to make the best choices to meet the high requirements of their customers.

This might be obvious in the case of a dedicated infrastructure as deployed in South Korea for SafeNet. However, no matter who deploys the network, mission-critical users will benefit from spectrum made available for them.

FirstNet in the US is a successful example of how public safety spectrum can be traded to obtain mission-critical class services from a commercial carrier. Even in the case of complete reliance on commercial carriers’ resources and infrastructure, those carriers will need to have access to adequate mission-critical spectrum too.

If broadband is a highway that allows high-speed driving, spectrum is the vehicle that leverages the speed. Every mission-critical network operator will need a vehicle to drive that road, independently of whether it is your own car, a rental or a combination of both.

Additional spectrum will help save lives by enabling public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) agencies to respond more effectively and efficiently to the increasing incidence of disasters and emergencies, driven by climate change, as well as socio-economic and geopolitical challenges.

This additional spectrum will enable millions of professional users to greatly increase overall situational awareness in times of acute operational need.

At national level, studies have shown that PPDR spectrum needs range between 20[1] and 60 MHz[2] for broadband communications. In recognition of those requirements, TCCA has published a joint position on the World Radio Conference 2023 Agenda Item 1.5[3].

TCCA advocates for a co-primary allocation of the spectrum band 470-694 MHz to mobile service, to meet the additional spectrum needs of mission-critical users, especially PPDR organisations, globally, and in particular in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Although this spectrum range is currently allocated to broadcast service until 2030, clear trends in media usage behaviour show that frequency requirements for broadcasting are declining[4]. This is especially due to changing media usage behaviour, as well as new methods for intelligent utilisation of the frequency band and new transmission technologies.

Therefore, the frequency spectrum in the 470-694 MHz range can be shared and used cooperatively, taking into account the needs of both critical communications and broadcasting.

Critical communications continue to need harmonised spectrum, including exclusively licensed spectrum below 1 GHz and standardised technologies to incentivise the development of economically viable, competitive and self-sustaining ecosystems that will facilitate cross-border mobility and wider geographical coverage. The spectrum in 470-694 MHz is the opportunity for critical communications to meet all these requirements and enable the deployment of mission-critical mobile broadband by 2030.

Therefore, TCCA strongly encourages mission-critical users and network operators to actively participate in the discussion with their national regulators, and to advocate for a co-primary allocation of the band 470-694 MHz to Mobile Service in the World Radio Conference 2023.

Imagine a disaster ten years from now. A co-primary allocation to Mobile Service could turn those future, well-equipped and reliably connected first responders into reality and help make all our lives safer.

Luz Fernández del Rosal is responsible for the international activities of BDBOS in Germany.


1) ECC Decision (16)02 https://docdb.cept.org/document/941

2) Studie zur Bedarfsermittlung des Breitbandspektrums der BOS in Breitbandmobilfunknetzen https://www.bdbos.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/...

3) July 2022 TCCA spectrum position for WRC 2023 https://tcca.info/documents/July-2022-TCCA-spectru...

4) BNetzA - Goldmedia / Fraunhofer. (2021). Perspektiven zur Nutzung des UHF-Bands 470-694 MHz nach 2030. https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downlo... abgerufen