NSW to invest AU$600m in critical comms network

The NSW government will introduce its Telecommunications Bill to parliament, aimed at creating a single communications network for critical agencies and services.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The New South Wales government will be introducing its Telecommunications Bill to parliament on Wednesday along with a AU$600 million investment in critical communications agencies, Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello has revealed.

"Going thru my speech for Telecommunications Bill that I'm introducing into Parli today," Dominello tweeted on Wednesday morning.

"Previously critical Gov agencies such as @NSWAmbulance, @NSWSES and @nswpolice had separate radio networks. We are investing $600m to create a single network for these frontline services."

The state government had earlier this year announced that NSW law enforcement would be receiving AU$151.1 million in 2018-19 -- AU$467.3 million over four years -- under the 2018-19 Budget for its Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) to expand the coverage of the Government Radio Network and improve critical communications during emergencies.

Under Section 16(1) of the public consultation draft of the Telecommunications Bill [PDF] published in June, government agencies are required to use the state government's telco network for operational communications, which is described in s3 as being "voice and data communications to facilitate the exercise of public safety functions by a government sector agency".

Section 17 then allows the minister to "authorise the establishment or use of an alternative network for an event or circumstance, a class of events or circumstances or for class of operational communications and may impose such conditions the minister considers to be appropriate".

Such circumstances would include geographical and technological limitations; needing to establish local networks for short periods of times due to events, "recurring circumstances, or situations"; or where the cost of the alternative network would not exceed AU$500,000.

The NSW Telco Authority is also authorised to remove, disconnect, transfer, or reconnect any part of the government telco network under s19 if it is "satisfied that it is no longer required for the efficient and economical operation of that network and is not required to be maintained under any contract or arrangement with a government sector agency".

The Bill modernises the existing 25-year-old Government Telecommunications Act 1991 (NSW) after a review and public consultation found it to be outdated, with the government also wanting a legislative basis for its CCEP.

In August, the NSW Telco Authority had also put out the call for "innovative ideas and models" on the scope of work necessary for constructing, operating, and maintaining the NSW 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 CCEP is complete.

"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."

In November last year, 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."

The federal government had ordered PSAs to use commercial mobile networks and spectrum in 2016 following a recommendation by the Productivity Commission.

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 in July 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. The NSW Telco Authority also signed a five-year, AU$30 million deal with Motorola Solutions in December 2016 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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