Spectrum - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Network Rail


1.  The railway, in common with other critical national infrastructure, relies on high-quality, highly reliable telecommunications. The quantity and quality of information needed to run the network safely and efficiently is set to continue to grow as signalling, passenger information and train management become increasingly sophisticated to deliver the railway Britain's economy needs.

2.  Currently, GB mainland railway operational communications, to train drivers and key staff, is delivered using legacy analogue radio systems, which are gradually being replaced by GSM-R. All of these systems are built upon a common foundation of good quality, dedicated radio spectrum. This is however just one system element required to deliver a mobile communication system fit for a safety critical operational purpose. The next generation of operational mobile communications, such as Automatic Train Operation and In-Cab CCTV, will be characterised much increased bandwidths, whilst maintaining the current service integrity.

3.  Auctioning spectrum to commercial users makes sense if we want to maximise government's revenues. However, requiring providers of critical national infrastructure and the emergency services to compete with mobile telephone operators risks either under-providing essential spectrum, or over-paying for it.

4.  Maximising income from the auction must be set against the cost to essential public services of doing so. Network Rail's income is made up of direct grant from government and income from train operators, many of whom are in receipt of public subsidy. Most other critical national infrastructure is publically funded; forcing competition between essential public services and commercial operators is unlikely to deliver value for money.

5.  One way to proceed would be to reserve sufficient spectrum for critical national infrastructure. This approach has been followed in the United States and ensures that revenue from commercial operations is maximised and the public interest protected.

6.  If this approach is not followed, in favour of a conventional price-led auction, it is likely that critical national infrastructures may have to buy mobile data services from commercial operators. This would be problematic, because the specifications of the two types of use are quite different. The railway requires extremely reliable and high-quality communications, well beyond what is required for mobile telephone networks. If a mobile telephone signal is weak it is an irritation; if a train with in-cab signalling loses contact with the control centre it would cause significant delays to multiple trains; in the worst-case becoming a safety risk.

7.  In summary, we believe that auctioning spectrum is appropriate for commercial users but not critical national infrastructure or emergency services users. The different specifications required, as well as value for money for taxpayers, mean that to require Network Rail and others in a similar position to compete with mobile telephone services risks under-specifying or over-paying, or both. Reserving a proportion of the spectrum for critical national infrastructure would enable the government to maximise revenue from commercial operators without denying essential public services' rather different telecommunications needs. This approach could either be achieved through direct access to suitable spectrum, or by applying public service commitments to some of the auctioned spectrum.

June 2011

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