NSW Telco Authority pushes for mobile broadband spectrum

Public safety agencies should be allocated 850MHz mobile broadband spectrum, the NSW Telco Authority has said, while also working with commercial carriers on delivery of projects and asset sharing.

The New South Wales Telco Authority has continued its campaign for mobile broadband spectrum, arguing that it is "critical" for public safety agencies (PSAs) to have access to communications at all times.

Speaking during the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) RadComms 2017 conference in Sydney, Kate Foy, managing director of the NSW Telco Authority, said that while PSAs want their own spectrum, they also recognise the need to work alongside mobile carriers as well.

"Spectrum is critical, and that's why we're looking for the application of spectrum to support this effort," Foy said.

"We do appreciate the high commercial value of spectrum, but we do need to take account of balancing cost and public interest. Certainly, carrier networks can offer part of the solution, there's no question about that; however, we need to provide a network that can stand when all else may fail.

"We are very clear about our need for spectrum for public safety mobile broadband."

With the 700MHz band sold off to mobile telcos earlier this year, Foy said the NSW Telco Authority is now pushing for spectrum in the 850MHz band. However, she also said PSAs need to work with the ACMA and industry on improving the process for spectrum management.

"There is a large administrative burden to managing spectrum for NSW government agencies," she explained.

"We do need to find a way through these reform processes to have a much more streamlined approach to our spectrum management demands from an administrative as well as from a usage point of view."

The Australian government had a year ago ordered PSAs to use commercial mobile networks and spectrum following a recommendation by the Productivity Commission, which stated that a commercial solution would only cost AU$2.2 billion over a 20-year period.

By comparison, building a dedicated network for PSAs was estimated to cost AU$6.2 billion, a full-coverage hybrid solution AU$5.1 billion, and a targeted-coverage hybrid solution AU$2.9 billion.

During the most recent financial year, Foy said the NSW Telco Authority increased its government radio network coverage from around 56 percent of the land mass to 91.5 percent using the AU$63 million it was allocated under the 2016-17 State Budget.

For this financial year, she said the authority has embarked on the next phase of its program across the 400MHz spectrum band using the AU$178 million it was allocated for 2017-18.

"We've got about 150 sites that we operate for the NSW network," she said.

"We conducted an audit, we found about 2,600 radio sites in existence throughout the state, some 27,000 radio assets; we are looking at integrating and consolidating that down to a network of 700, and trying to release the efficiencies out of that."

Unveiled in December 2015, the state's 10-year plan for telecommunications services for its PSAs involves agencies unifying their telco resources under a single integrated model, making the use of existing infrastructure more efficient, reducing duplication, improving reliability, and saving operational and maintenance costs.

This involves condensing more than 70 emergency, law-enforcement, and essential services agencies into one portfolio, with the current combined opex and capex costs associated with running 1,972 voice radio sites to also decrease. Just 732 voice radio sites are required under the plan.

Following this, the NSW Telco Authority signed NEC Australia to provide network management systems and wireless backhaul technology as part of the government's Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) in February.

In December 2016, the NSW Telco Authority also signed a five-year, AU$30 million deal with Motorola Solutions to upgrade 150 PSA radio sites and extend network coverage to 23 new sites in the north-west region of the state.

While Foy denied that the authority will be directly providing a mobile network for TPG, she did say that the state government is "absolutely" a proponent of infrastructure and spectrum sharing.

"The principle for us is that if there's capacity to share infrastructure and assets, whether that's us sharing with a carrier or a carrier sharing with us or any other purpose, we are absolutely open to those discussions," Foy said.

"I don't want any myth that might be around that we are here to provide a network for any particular carrier ... but we are open to talking to anybody about where our current infrastructure and assets might be of use to the public to provide a broader set of services in a way that protects the security environment of our network."

To deal with issues facing PSAs using commercial networks, a private Bill recently introduced to Australian Parliament said mobile telecommunications carriers should be forced to ensure they have 24 hours of backup power stored in all base stations located in bushfire-prone areas.

The Telecommunications Amendment (Guaranteeing Mobile Phone Service in Bushfire Zones) Bill 2017 [PDF] was introduced in the House of Representatives by Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie in September.

According to Sharkie, mobile telcos must have the capacity to continue providing telecommunications services in the event of a natural disaster because the fibre-to-the-node (FttN) National Broadband Network (NBN) connections would cut out during any power outages.

"High-risk bushfire areas need 24hr standby power on mobile towers. No power = no NBN FTTN, after 4 hrs no mobile communications," Sharkie tweeted at the time.

The proposed Section 113(3)(zb) would see the insertion of the point: "Action to be taken to ensure that mobile base stations in high bushfire risk communities have at least 24 hours of standby power capability at all times."

Previous Coverage

NSW Telco Authority signs NEC for emergency services network

NEC Australia will provide network management systems and wireless backhaul technology for emergency services under the NSW government's Critical Communications Enhancement Program.

Motorola Solutions signs AU$30m deal with NSW Telco Authority for network upgrade

Motorola Solutions has inked a AU$30 million deal with the NSW Telco Authority that will see it provide a network upgrade to improve safety and communications for first responders in the state.

Emergency services to use commercial networks

Emergency services including fire, police, and ambulance agencies will be forced to use commercial mobile networks, with the government to form a committee to come up with proposals.

NSW government pledges AU$63m to emergency services radio comms

The NSW government is investing in a more reliable radio network with better coverage for its emergency and law-enforcement services.