Report backs commercial mobile broadband for emergency services

Using commercial networks and spectrum most efficient option, Productivity Commission report states

Tapping the private sector for mobile broadband capabilities that can be employed public safety agencies, such as police, fire, ambulance and other emergency services, is the “most efficient, effective and economical” option, according to a research report on the issue released today by the Productivity Commission.

The government early in 2015 referred the issue to the commission, which in September released a draft report.

The final report of the commission concludes that over a 20-year period the provision by the private sector of mobile broadband services over commercial infrastructure would cost $2.2 billion, compared to $6.2 billion for a dedicated mobile broadband network for public safety agencies.

The cheapest ‘hybrid’ option — having a dedicated network and spectrum for emergency services in inner metropolitan areas — would cost $2.9 billion, the report concluded.

Although a dedicated network running on a dedicated spectrum would give emergency services increased control over the delivery of mobile broadband services, it would be no guarantee of congestion-free access when responding to incidents, the report stated.

In a submission issued in response to the Productivity Commission’s draft report, the Police Federation of Australia reiterated its previously expressed concerns over employing commercial arrangements to deliver mobile broadband capabilities.

“The commercial option, which the Productivity Commission clearly prefers, is privatization at its most extreme,” the PFA submission stated.

“It would put police and emergency services communications in the hands of a monopoly commercial carrier, a public policy outcome which we believe is irresponsible, shortsighted and foolhardy.”

The PFA “is convinced that Australia’s public safety agencies must have dedicated spectrum and arrangements under which they determine the best mobile broadband communications in the interests of the whole Australia community,” the submission stated.

The Council of Ambulance Authorities in its submission on the draft report argued that any proposed network “should be separate from commercially available public networks so at times of peak activity or during a security event it is made exclusively available to emergency services.”

“We should not support any network that is shared with other commercial or public entities for this reason,” the submission stated.

“The potential for hardware or programming issues to occur on a shared network; thus not allowing emergency services capability could be higher.”

The report received a warm reception from the telecommunications industry.

"The Productivity Commission’s research report into the provision of Public Safety Mobile Broadband reflects a common-sense approach in recommending partnerships with the mobile telecommunications industry as the way forward for provision of Mobile Broadband services for public safety agencies," said Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO Chris Althaus.

"Optus welcomes the Productivity Commission’s findings on Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB), in particular their recommendation for a commercial approach based on a competitive procurement framework," a spokesperson for the telco said.

"Optus looks forward to participating in the recommended small scale pilots which we believe will help develop Public Safety Agencies’ confidence in a commercial approach."

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