Govt, telcos point fingers over 4G emergency alert problem

'One option is to turn off 4G' Emergency Alert Program national director advises

The government is in talks with Optus and Vodafone about funding upgrades of their 4G networks to support emergency alerts from the National Emergency Warning System, according to the national director of the Emergency Alert Program.

Emergency services use the Emergency Alert system to send voice messages to landlines and text messages to mobile phones based on their location.

However, as Computerworld Australia reported yesterday, mobile customers on Optus and Vodafone's 4G networks might not always receive emergency alerts from the National Emergency Warning System due to compatibility problems that prevent the transmission of the user’s location on 4G.

Optus and Vodafone have said the issue won’t be fixed until the next bushfire season, in late spring or early summer 2015. Telstra’s 4G network has been compatible since January 2014.

As an interim solution, Optus and Vodafone have been able to determine location of 4G users when they make calls or send text messages on the 2G and 3G networks.

Vodafone and Optus say the government must approve funding for the 4G upgrades. Vodafone has been in discussions with the government "for some months" about funding and upgrades, the telco said. Optus said it "was ready and prepared to deliver a solution subject to approval by the Department of Justice.”

In a statement today, the government said the telcos had been unable to meet a deadline to implement support for the system in time for the current bushfire season.

“Optus and Vodafone were not able to make the deadline for implementation of the 4G capability prior to the fire season – which has already seen [New South Wales], Queensland, [South Australia] and Victoria under significant threat of fire since October – to allow sufficient time for appropriate testing and deployment,” said Michael Hallowes, national director of the Emergency Alert Program.

“This matter is about Vodafone's and Optus' approach to upgrade their original 2G and 3G location-based capabilities to keep up with the introduction and expansion of their 4G services.

“How Optus and Vodafone introduce the 4G upgrades and what funding is made available as part of the national project is now part of the discussions on the terms and conditions of their existing contracts that will be finalised before December 2015.”

Concerned customers using the Optus and Vodafone 4G networks should contact their service provider, Hallowes advised.

“One option is to turn off 4G using the settings on your mobile,” he added.

Hallowes said that there are other channels to receive emergency information, including radio, television and state or territory emergency services websites.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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