Australian Report: Commercial Networks Are Best Option for Public-Safety Broadband
Monday, September 28, 2015 | Comments

A commercial broadband solution offers the best way forward for public-safety agencies (PSAs) in Australia, a draft report from the country’s Productivity Commission said.

The draft report cited lower costs, faster launches, and a higher likelihood of adopting technology upgrades as the main benefits of a commercial approach. A commercial approach carries higher risk of supplier lock in but good procurement processes and careful contracting can reduce the risk, the report said.

Earlier this year, Australia’s Productivity Commission began a cost-benefit analysis on the best way to deliver a mobile broadband capability for PSAs in the country by 2020. Written comments about the report are due 28 October. A final report is scheduled to be released in December.

The commission undertook an illustrative evaluation of the costs of several specific delivery options during a 20-year period. The cost of a dedicated network was estimated to be about A$6.1 billion (US$4.3 billion) compared with A$2.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) for a commercial option. Even the lowest-cost hybrid option is twice as expensive as a commercial option, the report said.

“The benefits of each option are not expected to vary markedly, because the options under evaluation have been designed to deliver a similar level of PSMB capability,” the report said. “On that basis, the cost evaluation is likely to provide the best guide to net community benefit for each option.”

The report said trials would provide an opportunity to develop confidence in a commercial approach.

“There is considerable evidence to suggest that it is technically feasible for commercial carriers to deliver priority access for PSAs without dedicated spectrum,” the report said. “Given the additional costs involved, the commission considers that the case for using dedicated spectrum to deliver public safety mobile broadband PSMB (that is, a hybrid approach) is weak.”

Only if pilots and trials of commercial networks fail would it be appropriate to consider using dedicated spectrum to deliver PSMB services. LMR voice networks will continue to be available for at least the next five to 10 years in all jurisdictions, creating a relatively low risk environment for experimentation with new technology, the report said.

Further, commercial carriers are expected to be able to minimize PSMB operating costs by spreading certain costs, such as maintaining base station site equipment, across a larger number of users. The report did not model these efficiencies because of data limitations. However, the input assumptions used in the quantitative analysis have been adjusted so that operating costs are lower under a commercial option, the report said.

All mobile broadband networks require access to spectrum. Under a commercial approach to delivering PSMB, the spectrum holdings of commercial carriers would be used. A carrier might rely exclusively on its existing spectrum assets or purchase some new spectrum to accommodate PSA traffic. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone provide commercial cellular services in Australia.

Under a dedicated or hybrid deployment approach, the relevant state or territory government would need to obtain the right to access a suitable band of spectrum. In 2012, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) made an in principle decision to set aside 10 megahertz of 800 MHz spectrum to support the deployment of a PSMB capability. A final decision on the allocation of this spectrum is yet to be made.

“However, any state or territory government that wishes to access spectrum for PSMB is not dependent on the outcome of this process — they can apply to ACMA for an apparatus license, or obtain a spectrum license either at auction or from an existing license holder,” the report said.

The report said competitive procurement is essential. Splitting up tenders, leveraging infrastructure assets and insisting on open technology standards can help governments secure value for money. Achieving interoperability will require jurisdictions to agree on common technical standards. PSAs will also need to adapt their operations to make the most of PSMB. This includes protocols for sharing information and network capacity among agencies.

The report said the state and territory governments of Australia have a primary responsibility for public safety, and the federal government has a limited role.

The full report is available here.



 
 
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Comments
On 10/6/15, Rob Howes said:
I my work with emergency services. Commercial networks tend to ethier fail due to emergency response — fire, flood or earthquake such as in Christchurch — and telcos do not offer the quality of service or the backup capacity that is required for extended operation. They also demand continuing update of hardware. This has a short technology life. It is a good weather friend but the problems start when the pressure to respond is there.


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