In October the Queensland Government will formally begin its search for a private sector partner to build and operate its $567 million digital radio network upgrade, while it mulls the possibility of also building a $440 million digital mobile broadband network in parallel.
Looming pressures on the existing radio network, including the Commonwealth’s demands for the harmonisation of radio spectrum use and strict security obligations ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, have turned the current infrastructure into a cost liability. This has made the upgrade a viable alternative even for penny-pinching Queensland.
An otherwise austere 2012-13 State Budget has made capital expenditure provisions for the construction of a Government Wireless Network (GWN) to replace the ageing radio communications infrastructure.
While no figures were disclosed in the Budget Papers, the interim report of Peter Costello’s Commission of Audit has suggested that the GWN will cost $567 million over seven years to build and another $70 million each year to operate.
- $5.7 million for a business case;
- $7 million for a supply strategy; and
- $554 million for the build including new towers, handsets, mobile data terminals and repeaters.
At this stage the Government has no funded plans to set up a digital mobile broadband (DMB) network alongside the GWN, despite projections that doing both at the same time would achieve economies of scale for the indebted State.
However it is not turning its back on the option either.
“It is intended that GWN proponents will be asked to demonstrate their capability and experience in delivering these services in the future, with a possibility that GWN infrastructure (e.g. communications towers) may be used to accommodate mobile broadband equipment,” said a spokesperson for the lead procuring agency for the GWN, Projects Queensland (within the Department of Treasury and Trade).
The Commission of Audit has suggested that a DMB would cost an additional $440 million over 15 years, when inter-jurisdictional cost sharing arrangements are taken into account.
The Government intends to enter into an agreement with a private sector provider, who will design, finance, build and operate the GWN under a managed service arrangement with the State.
It has invited interested parties to register their interest for the project early, to ensure that upcoming invitations for Expressions of Interest (EOIs) will be delivered to them next month. Participation in this early round of registrations is not compulsory for tenderers, but submitting during the EOI stage is.
The EOI stage will commence in October, and will produce a shortlist of respondents who will be invited to participate in a competitive tender round in early 2013.
By building the GWN, the Queensland Government should save the $75 million it would otherwise cost them to meet the Commonwealth’s spectrum requirements and upgrade security in time for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
The first agencies to be transitioned onto the GWN will be the Queensland Police Service and the other emergency services agencies within the Department of Community Safety. The remainder will begin to use the new network at a later stage and the Government also plans to invite Government Owned Corporations and local governments to participate in the future.