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NSW government announces emergency services telco strategy

The NSW government is consolidating its public safety agency telco assets under one agency, and sending the Telco Authority to lobby the federal government to advocate emergency services spectrum allocation.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

New South Wales Minister for Finance, Services, and Property Dominic Perrottet has unveiled the state government's 10-year plan for telecommunications services for its public safety agencies (PSAs), seeing resources unified under a single model and allocated spectrum being pushed.

The NSW Government Operational Communications Strategy [PDF], published on Tuesday, was developed by the NSW Telco Authority after a period of consultation with the PSAs, including emergency services and law-enforcement bodies.

"Communications are an essential part of critical frontline services," Perrottet said.

"In everything we do, the NSW government is committed to making better use of existing resources, and taking advantage of the best technology available, to deliver the high levels of service the people of NSW expect."

The strategy will see agencies unify 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.

"Communication channels are no longer a series of independent networks; the service is more extensive, available on a range of devices and interoperable between agencies," Perrottet wrote in the foreword to the strategy.

The government will also encourage more usage of private sector telco service providers to drive efficiency.

"We will no longer have independent radio networks owned and operated by various government agencies," the strategy says.

"Instead, we will harness the expertise that exists across agencies and make better use of the resources of private industry in order to provide reliable, secure and innovative solutions to our frontline personnel."

Such a strategy will also provide greater opportunity for the telco industry to secure government contracts, which the report argues will lead to economic growth for the state, as well as allowing the government to make savings by owning fewer assets.

The report also flagged the possibility of using wearables and M2M technologies in the future.

"Wearable technology and machine-to-machine communications are extending our capacity to collect and transfer information," the strategy says.

"There are exciting opportunities for these new technologies to be harnessed by government to reduce and fight crime, predict and respond better to natural disasters and assist to treat critically ill people more effectively."

However, it added that only "readily available" technology will be utilised by public safety agencies, as it will ensure proven results as well as low costs.

As for communications, the report said the goal is for field staff to share data and information no matter where they are across a reliable network, with members of the public to participate by providing information through social media and digital channels.

The Department of Finance, Services, and Property, under the guidance of the NSW Telco Authority, will consolidate all resources and services under a single portfolio, including management of the state's critical spectrum assets to improve flexibility.

The Telco Authority is also set to investigate spectrum developments and advocate PSA access to critical spectrum with the federal government.

"Radiofrequency spectrum is critical to the provision of new services such as broadband video and data and enables delivery of efficiencies and value to the public," the strategy says.

"The outcomes of the Public Safety Mobile Broadband inquiry, currently being undertaken by the Commonwealth, will be critical in terms of government's access to spectrum, the market dynamics we will face and what strategic commissioning alternatives will be available to the NSW government."

PSAs -- which include police agencies, fire service organisations, ambulance services, the State Emergency Service, and marine rescue and coast guard -- have been pushing for their own spectrum for years, saying they need to be able to access high-speed video, high-quality images, geolocation tools, and biometric capabilities wherever they are working.

In November, the Australian government tasked the Productivity Commission with undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of the best way to deliver a mobile broadband for PSAs, which was then published in September.

In the Public Safety Mobile Broadband Productivity Commission Draft Report [PDF], the commission identified three options: Constructing a dedicated PSA network with their own allocated spectrum; taking a purely commercial approach, which would involve mobile carriers providing contractual services to PSAs; or a hybrid of the two, such as Telstra's LANES.

Allocating a dedicated network was estimated by the commission to cost AU$6.1 billion over a 20-year period, while the commercial option would only cost AU$2.1 billion and the hybrid solution around AU$4 billion. The substantial cost saving in the latter two options would be due to the PSAs being able to leverage and share existing infrastructure.

A dedicated network also runs the risk of taking longer to build out and deploy, and would provide less flexibility and scalability for the short term. However, the commission also noted that going with a commercial or hybrid option could result in a lack of competition, as well as lock-in.

"A commercial approach represents the most efficient, effective, and economical way of delivering a PSMB capability to PSAs," the commission concluded in its report.

PSAs would therefore be sent directly to telecommunications carriers and equipment manufacturers without any dealings with government in order to gain their mobile broadband services.

The Police Federation of Australia (PFA) criticised this approach, with CEO Mark Burgess telling ZDNet that the Productivity Commission's conclusion is based solely on economics rather than also taking into consideration public safety.

"It's very, very short-sighted on the part of the Productivity Commission, but understandably, they're not experts in this area; they're basically economists," Burgess said.

"They're looking at the costs aspect of it. Our key concern is the safety of the public."

The NSW Telco Authority is slated to negotiate the matter with the Australian government during Q4 of the 2015-16 financial year.

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