NSW Telco Authority refreshes 10-year telco plan for emergency services

Under this new plan, a single, interoperable public safety network will be stood up to deliver mission-critical standard voice and narrowband data services.

The New South Wales Telco Authority has delivered a refreshed blueprint of a 10-year plan to improve operational communications for NSW emergency services.  

According to the Operational Communications Strategy 2020 (OCS 2020), plans are underway to deploy a state-wide, government-owned radio network and a phased roll-out of a public safety long-term evolution (PS-LTE) network that will deliver mission-critical standard voice and narrowband data services over the next decade.

The PS-LTE network will be delivered as part of the state government's AU$600 million investment in critical communications.

"In consultations to develop the strategy, customers told us they need both mission-critical voice and broadband data services to meet future coordination and connectivity challenges," NSW Telco Authority managing director Kylie De Courteney said.

The delivery of the PSN, according to the OCS 2020 [PDF], will help remove duplication and fragmentation, create a coordinated approach to public safety communication capabilities, equip frontline responders with real-time information and mobile communication services, deliver value for money, and reduce risk and improve operation visibility.

De Courteney added the LTE technology will enable first responders to access new services such as messaging services, data analytics, location services, and real-time reporting.

The delivery of the OCS 2020 builds on the OCS 2015 and was developed following consultation with the likes of emergency services, telco carriers, and various NSW government departments.

The NSW Telco Authority outlined the OCS needed to be refreshed due to several reasons. It noted that recent catastrophic events such as the bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic have reinforced the need for "resilient and reliable public safety communications". It also said citizen expectations for video and data applications and services are becoming increasingly important for public safety, that multiple investments in mobile broadband solutions require a whole-of-government approach, and new technologies are emerging that require extended coverage.

At the same time, the refreshed strategy aligns with state government's overall whole-of-government digital strategy on putting citizens first.

"To deliver this strategy, NSW Telco Authority will evolve into a highly customer-focused agency with multiple roles over and above service delivery that offer significant touchpoints with other government priority areas including digital leadership and innovation, and competitive, fair, and secure markets," NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said.

"As the agency responsible for operational communications, NSW Telco Authority will provide digital leadership in the public safety sphere. It will also provide linkages to the whole-of-government digital strategy through its role in national and state programs designed to enhance digital connectivity, including Public Safety Mobile Broadband, the Mobile Black Spot Program, and Regional Digital Connectivity."

A report prepared by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in May found that during the peak period of the Black Summer bushfires, most telecommunication outages were due to power failures rather than direct fire damage to communication assets.

The report found that during the period from 19 December 2019 to 31 January 2020, only 3% of tower outages were due to fire damage, and of the 1,390 total facilities that were impacted by the fires outages, only 1% of incidents were a direct result of fire damage.

Similar findings were disclosed by the company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia. In June, NBN revealed in response to Senate Estimates Question on Notice that bushfires impacted 1% of all NBN services.

"12% (or 6,367 services) of all services impacted were directly impacted by fire over the duration of the bushfires," the company said at the time.

"The remaining services were impacted by power outages as a result of the bushfires."

The federal government has previously announced it would spend AU$37.1 million to improve the resiliency of the nation's telco infrastructure in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires and in October, Communications Alliance and Energy Networks Australia (ENA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to improve the way the two sectors collaborate and share knowledge when responding to emergency situations.

Under the MoU, the pair have agreed to improve the safety of communities by mitigating risks caused by telecommunications or power outages during emergencies, as well as the sustainability of telecommunications and power supply services to communities affected by emergencies to support their recovery.

In the same month, Australian National University (ANU) and Optus announced it would attempt to develop a national system to detect and extinguish fires using a mixture of satellites, drones, and robotics.

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