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NSW Telco Authority seeks information on radio network expansion

A request for information is seeking 'innovative ideas' for the expansion of the NSW government's critical communications radio network.

The NSW Telco Authority has put out the call for "innovative ideas and models" on the scope of work necessary for constructing, operating, and maintaining the New South Wales government's critical communications radio network.

According to NSW Telco Authority MD Kate Foy, the state government's radio network will increase from 180 to around 400 sites over the next few years, and then 700 in total once the Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) is complete.

The request for information (RFI) is the first step for the radio network expansion, ahead of a formal tender process, and will be open until September 12.

"This significant expansion will be a major piece of infrastructure and will almost double the size of the current government radio network. The program aims to deliver world-class critical communications services to our public safety and law enforcement agencies well into the future," Foy said.

"With an expansion of this size, we need to scale up how we operate, maintain, and deliver network services to address the increased scope of the operating environment. We're seeking feedback from industry to inform our Request for Tender on potential improvements and cost-effective solutions."

Under the 2018-19 state Budget, the NSW Telco Authority had been allocated AU$320 million over the next four years, with its radio network servicing 44 government agencies, emergency services, law enforcement, utilities, power providers, and local councils.

In November, Foy had continued the NSW Telco Authority's campaign for mobile broadband spectrum, arguing that it is "critical" for public safety agencies (PSAs) to have access to communications at all times.

"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 last year, Foy said the NSW Telco Authority has been pushing for spectrum in the 850MHz band. However, she also said PSAs need to work with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (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 ordered PSAs to use commercial mobile networks and spectrum in 2016 following a recommendation by the Productivity Commission.

During the FY17 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 the FY18 financial year, she said the authority 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 CCEP in February.

NEC Australia was last month then chosen by NSW Police to upgrade its microwave radio communications network using its iPasolink VR platform and supply 110 iPasolink terminals to the New England region.

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.

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