Spectrum, Data and The Titanic all on the agenda at RadComms Conference

The ACMA’s 6th RadComms Conference is being held in Melbourne this week. Opening the conference, Chairman Chris Chapman recalled the part Marconi’s radio transmission technology played in saving so many lives when the Titanic sank one hundred years ago.


“It has been a century since the sinking of the Titanic and I mention it, not for the tragic disaster it was but for the impetus it provided to our industry.

“When the RMS Titanic scraped an iceberg on the night of 14 April 1912, its wireless operators began sending distress calls on one of the world’s most advanced radios: a 5-kilowatt rotary spark transmitter that on a clear night could send signals from the middle of the Atlantic to New York City or London.

“The equipment was owned by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. and operated by two of its employees, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride.

“What Phillips and Bride didn’t have to aid them were international protocols for wireless communications at sea.

“Shipboard operators were still an unregulated novelty, and they reported to their companies, not to the ship captain. They sent business and personal messages using assorted spark transmitters over various wavelengths depending on the time of day, or where they were.

“The vast majority of ships had only one radio operator, who was obligated to serve only a 10-hour shift each day. Efforts to regulate wireless at sea drew challenges from governments and corporations—most notably Marconi’s own company.

“But after a series of maritime accidents in the early 20th century, the need to standardise procedures and systems for wireless maritime distress became increasingly apparent. The Titanic’s sinking accelerated a process that to this day continues to improve communications technology at sea and further spawned developments that infuse every current wireless communications system. This process evolved into the regulation of radio by way of the International Telecommunication Convention in Madrid, 1932—the organisation we know today as the ITU. ”


Chapman made the point that there isn’t exponential growth in spectrum availability, “nor have I noticed a growth in people prepared to forego their particular service or application in the interests of a satisfactory mobile broadband experience for others.” So, he says, ACMA needs to consider its options and work out how this growth can be accommodated without switching everything else off.


The regulator is looking for efficiencies, “better ways to use the spectrum we have,” by not retaining outmoded technologies such as GSM when LTE is here, and by exploring pricing incentives and alternative rights of use.

The balancing act between minimizing interference and gaining new space saw one of this year’s topics being ways to minimise spectrum wastage in things like guard bands, the free space between radio and tv station frequencies.

Global harmonization of technology, so that handset costs come down and global trade is enhanced, was also on the agenda.


In a presentation by Ericsson, Kursten Leins looked at multi-screen consumer trends, telling delegates the role of devices is changing from an emphasis on accessing devices, to an emphasis on accessing content.

The trend for media consumption has changed from ‘What is on right now,’ to ‘What do I feel like watching right now… and who else is watching this.’


Leins’ research is in line with an earlier radioinfo article about new consumption patterns. While talking with people in the same room and eating are still the top two activities people do while watching the tv, they now also browse the internet, talk on the phone, use social forums, study, chat and play games.

The advice from Leins was for broadcasters to focus on the experience of their broadcast, not the technology.


In a presentation from the Department of Communications (DBCDE), Department Secretary Peter Harris pointed out how much high end devices multiply the bandwidth traffic being used by consumers. A smart phone generates 35 times the data traffic as an old voice and text mobile phone, a tablet is 121 times more bandwidth hungry than an old ‘dumb’ phone, and a laptop is 498 times more hungry.

These figures show the value of free to air broadcasting and its point to multi-point bandwidth efficiency. Free to air radio and tv are more ‘green’ and environmentally friendly than wired media.


Andrew Kerans, from ACMA’s Spectrum Infrastructure Branch, made the point that the key argument is not about spectrum any more, it is about data. To achieve maximum data rates, spectrum must be planned efficiently.