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Transport & Logistics

Railways evolution in Brazil: Development of the Radio Frequency Spectrum

13 Aug 2013, by Informa Insights

Sergio CoutinhoMany of us have experienced the frustration of not being able to place a mobile phone call in a crowded airport and some of us have had the experience of, when we turn for highways, perceiving the superposition of  radio station signals from one city to another.

One reason why this happens is because there are not free frequencies in sufficient quantity for all communications that would like to be transmitted at the same time, as in a railroad cannot put more than one train in the same pathway section at the same time.

The frequency spectrum is a scarce resource, a public good and its use in Brazil is regulated by the National Agency of Telecommunications, ANATEL. The General Telecommunications Law from 1997 states that “if there is a technical limitation to the use of radio frequency and interest in its use by more than one party for expanded service and, with or without concomitant others interested in providing the same type of service, the use permit will depend on bidding in the manner and conditions laid down in Articles. 88-90 of this Act and will always be costly. ”

In March this year ANATEL put to public consultation a proposed invitation to bid for shipping Concession Law Blocks Use of Radio in the ranges of 300, 400 and 800 MHz, associated with the operation of services of public and private radio dispatch, known as Specialized Mobile Service – SME Service and Private Mobile Limited – SLMP.

Licenses for the use of frequency blocks in these bands and these services will be awarded to the winner of the bid, which will be decided in favor of the proposal with the highest value for the price offered and the public bidding should even affect licenses already granted and valid.

This is an important process that affects the utilities of rail cargo and passengers that currently operate or plan to operate systems in these frequency bands. The last consignment procedures of permits for the use of radio frequency blocks for Specialized Mobile Service, among other businesses operated by Nextel in the 800 MHz band was conducted in 2004 and 2006 and ANATEL considers it necessary to update the public prices for the same blocks radio frequency. This would be an opportunity to auction the licenses on all these tracks, dividing them by Areas of Service Delivery, interchangeably for both the SME as to SLMP. The news, which is a trend, is that licenses for private use systems (SLMP) will also be auctioned.

This represents a major change in the culture of licensing for use of the frequency spectrum in Brazil, but that already happens in other countries. The analysis of the draft Notice of Competition held by Councilor ANATEL Marcelo Bechara Hobaika says that “while not performing usual … the bidding of the spectrum for a service restricted interest (SLMP) the Call enable companies interested in obtaining authorizations to use the spectrum associated with participation in SLMP … bidding, thus ensuring equality between the companies and the SME SLMP “.

So, the railway companies, energy, roads and other have to participate in a public bidding and pay to get licenses to use the spectrum. It is worth noting that the Notice provides that, for the frequencies that are still occupied, the winning companies should bear the costs of a possible eviction of the spectrum to be used in the provision of SME or SLMP.

In the U.S., according to the report of FRA – Federal Railroad Authority, submitted to Congress in August 2012, the seven railroads tier one dispenderam already about 40 million U.S. dollars in obtaining and managing licenses for 220 MHz and still need to acquire spectrum Additional required to complete the deployment of the PTC, which is a central issue in the evolution of the project.

The ARA, Australasian Railway Association, through its affiliates and railway operators, coordinated the acquisition of licenses totaling 15 MHz bandwidth in the 1.8 GHz band to facilitate the installation of GSM-R voice and data communications for the railroads. The minimum public price per frequency was set at 23 Australian cents per megahertz per capita. Thus, in Sydney, for example, which is about 4 million, the cost of acquisition of 10 MHz would be around 18.4 million Australian dollars, about 38 million Reais. There are licenses expiring in 2013 and if the railroads wish to purchase them, they will pay the minimum price, without disputing auctions with mobile operators. The legislation also provides for a reduction factor in the formula for calculating the minimum price the frequencies when treating a service of public interest, but that has not yet been applied.

On the other hand, the European Community, which regulated the use of standardized systems of voice and data, decided in July 2002 to designate 4.0 MHz bandwidth in the 800 MHz band for exclusive use of rail transport at no cost to the railways . Currently discussing the allocation of additional 2.0 MHz, which broaden the bandwidth dedicated to rail to 6.0 MHz, China, our biggest competitor among the BRICS, followed the European path standardizing systems and allocating 4.0 MHz band in the 900 MHz band for exclusive use of rail.

The decision that the Board of Directors of ANATEL were to take based on the Public Consultation 016/2013 shall, for now, only affect the tracks 800, 450 and 360 MHz. Concessionaires railway communication systems that use these frequencies need to revise their migration policies and expansion of mobile communications systems. Or invest significant amounts in acquiring licenses to use radio, or be associated with someone who does, or migrate to a new frequency band.

This raises other questions:
• ANATEL intends in future to allocate frequencies dedicated for use of rail transport in the 900 MHz band which is feasible allocation of 4.0 MHz or 6.5 MHz and possibly even in the 700 MHz band where utilities passenger are requesting the allocation of at least 10MHz?
• Or the organizations responsible for rail transport should be organized auctions and compete against mobile operators and radio communication order, investing millions of dollars in the purchase of licenses?
• The standardization of railway communication systems, currently under discussion in ANTT, will return frequency spectrum reserved and free of excessive burden for rail, as established by Article 91 of the LGT, as do Europe and China?

The tendency to embark signaling systems rather than installing them on the wayside, the cab signaling, is irreversible. The evolution of the railroad and the reduction of investment and maintenance costs associated to signaling systems rely on the availability of means for wireless communication. For this to be also feasible in Brazil, it is necessary to ensure radio spectrum availability.

A great sense of urgency on the part of the railways is necessary in searching and allocating frequency spectrum, which will be essential to its operation in the coming decades. The National Telecommunications Agency has the task of managing scarce resources such as spectrum and telephony numbering plans, ensuring their efficient use, including in rail transport. However, it should be in line with the society demands for efficient and low cost transport, both passenger and freight.

*This is an English translation of an article Sergio Guedelha Coutinho** wrote and originally appeared in Revista Ferroviaria. To read the original article in Portugese, visit Radiofrequências e Desenvolvimento das Ferrovias

With over 30 years experience in telecommunications, Sergio is an electrical engineer and Partner at Guedelha & Associados and uniquely qualified to discuss the evolution of radio telecommunications in Brazil.

** Sergio will be sharing his thoughts at Heavy Haul Rail South America in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the 16 October 2013

Related articles:

Anatel: Brazil’s mobile base climbs to 263m in February (Telegeography)
Gov. dedicates radio spectrum for rail (Rail Express)
Australia allocates dedicated radio spectrum for rail industry (Railway Technology)
Thales secures Manaus monorail telecommunications system contract in Brazil (Railway Technology)

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