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Commission: Commercial option for consolidated PSA mobile broadband network would save $4b

by Justin Hendry •
Free resource

A dedicated public safety grade mobile broadband network would cost three times more than using commercial options over the course of twenty years, a draft report by the Productivity Commission has found.

The ‘first principals analysis’ has been tasked with identifying the most feasible way to deliver a Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) capability to Public safety agencies (PSAs) – in an way that is both efficient and cost-effective. The terms of reference were released in March by former Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Justice Michael Keenan.

While the final report is still some months off, the draft Public Safety Mobile Broadband report released on Wednesday has suggested that “significant economies of scale and scope” can be realised by delivering PSMB capability across existing commercial network infrastructure, and through sharing network capacity among PSAs.

The Commission found that delivering PSMB on a commercial carrier would cost around $2.1 billion over 20 years, $4 billion less than the cost of a dedicated option. “A commercial approach is the most cost-effective way of delivering a PSMB capability to PSAs,” states the draft report.

Many PSAs such as Fire and Rescue NSW have introduced capabilities which depend on commercial networks to locate vehicles and run application based in-field intelligence and video communications. However, wider use of mobile applications “…has been modest and piecemeal to date” largely because of “…concerns about the quality of service offered by commercial mobile carriers – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.”

The draft report also highlighted the risks and benefits of dedicated, hybrid and commercial options, however pointed out that the benefits of each model do not differ markedly “since the options under evaluation have been designed to deliver a similar level of PSMB capability.”

It did however note that the commercial option poses the greater risk of governments being locked into a single supplier, whereas a network built specifically for PSMB is at a greater risk of becoming technologically obsolete.

The draft report also pointed out that “the ability of commercial mobile carriers to provide PSAs with ‘guaranteed’ network access and priority over other traffic without dedicated spectrum is yet to be demonstrated.” It did however make specific mention of Telstra’s LANES capability which has been trialled in a number of states. LANES consists of both a dedicated channel and the ability for PSAs to use the commercial network with priority if the dedicated channel is exhausted. “This allows the network capacity available to PSAs to be scaled up instantly.”

Issues flagged by PSAs as affecting their decision to rely primarily on commercial carriers include:

  • Access to commercial mobile networks during periods of congestion / peak demand;
  • prioritisation of PSA traffic over other mobile traffic;
  • network reliability and continuity of communications;
  • security; and
  • device compatibility.

PSAs have historically used dedicated land mobile radio (LMR) networks for their communications, delivering voice, paging and narrowband data services (computer aided dispatch [CAD], text messaging). All Australian jurisdictions are expected to continue using LMR networks until at least 2020.

However as information has become increasingly ‘mission critical’ to PSAs and central to operations, mobile broadband technology “…represents a significant opportunity to save lives and property, improve officer safety and drive productivity gains in the delivery of public safety”, states the report.

LMR networks are becoming outdated because they are not supportive of high-speed data such as video, nor are they interoperable across agencies and jurisdictions.

“Mobile broadband applications (such as location tracking, biometrics, live video streaming, image transfer and dispatch messaging) offer significant potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public safety services, fundamentally changing the way these services are delivered,” states the draft report.

The Commission has been obligated to consult broadly with industry and government including on release of the draft report. Submissions will close 28 October with a final report to be release in December 2015.

The Federal Government Australian Communications and Media Authority is also in the process of re-allocating the radiofrequency spectrum, and will hold an auction in November for 2 x 60 MHz of spectrum on the 1800MHz band.

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