Australian telecommunications provider Telstra will begin rolling out the location-based national emergency warnings system to its 4G network after signing a deal with the Victorian government.
Announced on Wednesday, the extension of the Australian Emergency Alert system to customers with 4G handsets comes in the midst of Australia's bushfire season.
"This is a key enhancement to Emergency Alert," Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services Kim Wells said at the announcement yesterday.
"Until now, people with 4G phones operating on 4G networks could only receive location-based emergency warnings if they had made or received a call within the preceding hour. Using the handset for texts and the internet did not make the handset visible to the network for Emergency Alert. "
As of the end of 2013, Telstra's 4G network reaches 85 percent of the Australian population.
"Given the take-up we're seeing in 4G, we've made the decision to change our investment strategy. We're now going to be deploying 4G as a capacity play instead of 3G antennas. We're still seeing some 3G growth, but the rate of the 3G growth is slowing pretty rapidly as 4G starts to take off," Telstra's chief operations officer Brendon Riley said in July 2013.
"We've got the fastest national 4G network."
The national emergency warnings system was introduced on December 1, 2009, when the Council of Australian Governments agreed to set up the system, with the federal government setting aside AU$15 million in May 2009 to finance it.
However, the system did not allow for the present physical location of mobile phones during an emergency until after the Queensland Flood Commission filed its interim report of the disaster response in August 2011, recommending that location-based warnings be introduced to take account of residents who may have departed an affected area, or visitors present there.
In January 2012, Telstra signed a contract with the Victorian government on behalf of the nation to begin providing such location-aware warnings.
"I commend the Victorian government for taking steps towards providing Australia with ground-breaking public safety technology that will help emergency services across the nation to warn communities about life-threatening emergencies," then-Australian Minister for Emergency Management Robert McClelland said at the time.
"As planned, Telstra will deliver location-based capability to its customers by December 2012, and Vodafone and Optus will have it in place ahead of the 2013-14 fire season," then-Victorian Acting Premier Peter Ryan said.
Since Emergency Alert's implementation, location-based warnings have been used almost 270 times, with over 1.4 million messages sent out.
The government is involved in ongoing negotiations with Optus and Vodafone to make their 4G networks compatible with the warnings system, too.