There’s a saying that you can’t manage anything until you can measure it, so with the recent leaps and bounds in ICT, the Papua New Guinea Telecommunications Authority (PANGTEL) has had a sticky time trying to manage, let alone measure it all. As PANGTEL Chairman, Angsar Palauva put it, “Telecommunications networks and services provide the fundamental building blocks on which ICT services such as multimedia, voice, video and data content are delivered. With the increasing demand in ICT services, it is necessary to transform and improve the capacity and capability of [PANGTEL’s] existing infrastructure.”
PANGTEL’s functions are enabled through the Telecommunications Act, 1996; the Radio Spectrum Act 1996 and ITU International regulations. Its role is to provide the following:
- Spectrum Planning
- Frequency Assignment
- Communications Equipment Type Approvals
- Radio Monitoring
- International Regulatory Co-ordination
- Record Keeping
Before I go on, keep in mind when you read this post that the term ‘Radio’ being used is the broad technical definition which covers all forms of wireless activity not just radio stations like NBC, etc. So whether you want to call it satellite signals, mobile phone signals or WIFI, all forms of wireless communications use a specific range of radio frequencies.
These radio frequencies are assigned by PANGTEL to currently 710,000 spectrum licence holders. When you couple that with our magnificent mountains and ranges you begin to see how difficult it is to manage and troubleshoot all these spectrum licences.
Besides the obvious growth in demand for radio services, other factors have also influenced the difficulties for PANGTEL, such as:
- An aging Licensing and Information System from 1997;
- Technology Advances in the industry; and
- Government Policy Changes.
The Automated Spectrum Management System (ASMS)
With all these issues mounting, PANGTEL began taking steps to upgrade their aging system as far back as 2007. Finally last week a group of stakeholders and myself were able to see the final result of their upgrading program in the form of the launch of their new Automated Spectrum Management System (ASMS). The ASMS is essentially a database driven by specialised software which I hear cost just about K1 million. I’d say that’s a bargain when you consider the amount of licence holders we have now, and with a well regulated industry and the current growth in ICT, I’m sure the return on investment for the software should be within 5 years or less. The system was provided by ATDI Pacific, the Australian subsidiary of a french software solutions company.
The ASMS is comprised of a database which interacts with 2 software packages; ICS Telecom and ICS Manager.
The ICS Telecom software is a reference tool for planning telecommunications networks and managing frequency spectrum. It has the ability and capacity to capture data necessary for the efficient performance of engineering and technical analysis including planning of the radio frequency spectrum. The module has applications which are widely used in modern radio networks, both fixed and mobile and across the frequency range of 10 KHz to 450 GHz, including:
- Aeronautical systems;
- Broadcast TV and radio services;
- Cellular phones;
- Fixed radio access;
- Land mobile services;
- Maritime communication systems;
- Microwave bearers;
- Mobile data;
- Paging systems;
- Radar services;
- Satellite systems; and
The ICS Manager software on the other hand is used for mainly spectrum administration. The set of modules provided by the ICS Manager primarily covers:
- ITU notifications;
- International coordination;
- National Allocation planning;
- National licenses management;
- Operational management;
- Licensing tariffs and fees; and
- Spectrum planning
The ICS Manager can also hierarchically store all spectrum-related data management activities including:
- License management;
- Spectrum monitoring;
- Coordination, spectrum planning;
- Frequency assignment and channel allotment;
- Zone allotments or band attributions;
- Antennas, equipment, sites and frequency plans;
- Frequency allocation; and
- Workflow management.
Among the many uses for the ASMS, PANGTEL will also be able to use the system for license applications, license and fee processing, revenue tracking, billing and invoicing and data-keeping and maintenance of all station information in one central database.
I was also impressed to see that the ASMS had a frequency coverage mapping feature which could show locations of broadcast equipment and what the spectrum spread would actually look like in a specific geographic location. For example the system was able to show where a frequency broadcast may be missing the side of hills or where it maybe be broadcast out to sea or even further to other countries. So for the first time, you can actually see through image plotting where and how spectrum licences are being used without having to make guesses by comparing GPS coordinates with hard copy cartographic maps.
PANGTEL has also invested in portable and hand held spectrum analysing equipment which their inspectors can use on site to verify audits, surveys or complaints of spectrum misuse. This additional method for gathering information on spectrum usage is important because like any database, the ASMS is dependent on what information is fed into it. The more accurate the information fed into the system the more accurate the results.
The result is a system whose importance PANGTEL could not stress enough. They added that, “It does not only enable PANGTEL to perform its statutory regulatory functions more effectively and efficiently but also brings spectrum management practices in PNG in line with international best practices and benchmarks set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The ASMS will greatly enhance PANGTEL’s capacity to manage the radio spectrum resources through improved technical analysis and turn around time in processing licensing matters and efficiently attending to the needs of its paying spectrum users which include the private sector, government agencies, NGO’s and individuals.”
Certainly one of the most important events to occur for PANGTEL’s services and I remarked to some of the PANGTEL staff on the day that it would be great also if NGO’s and individuals could also hire the spectrum analysing equipment for one off usage for maybe small project proposals or small to medium business purposes.
Now I can’t finish this post without a mention of the PANGTEL staff. I was very impressed with their uniforms, the men in particular looked quite smart in their ties. Even better than how good they looked was the fact that upon inspecting the equipment on demonstration, more than one person was able to explain what each equipment did and how it worked. This in my mind showed that some serious in-house training must have been undertaken so that information will not be tied up with just one technical person. The staff running the demonstrations were also quite young, which is a good sign for ensuring the longevity of the ASMS.
Credit is due to the Board of PANGTEL for their foresight and understanding of the importance of growing with the ICT industry. If only other government agencies could take on this attitude and spirit by investing in their man power and new technology, maybe then they would have a better chance at measuring and consequently managing better their specific industries, (Immigration, Labour and Lands would be likely candidates).