Private telcos ‘most cost effective’ for public safety mobile broadband


news Private telecommunications firms are the most cost-effective option for delivering mobile broadband to public safety agencies, according to a Productivity Commission report.

Mobile broadband technology can play a role in saving lives and property, improving officer safety and driving productivity gains in the delivery of public safety services. It enables frontline officers to access high-speed video, images, location tracking and more.

However, public safety organisations such as police, fire and ambulance groups have made the argument for some time that a separate mobile network meeting a public safety grade was needed to provide separate services to those already available from commercial telcos.

The report (pdf) released by the Productivity Commission this week evaluates a range of options for delivering a public safety mobile broadband capability to Australia’s public safety agencies, including use of a dedicated network, an existing commercial network and combinations of the two.

The commission found that the commercial option would be significantly lower cost than either a dedicated or hybrid option.

“A commercial option is substantially lower cost because considerable existing infrastructure could be used or shared, meaning significantly less new investment is required,” said Commissioner Jonathan Coppel.

The commission said it has assessed the risks of each option and that, while the nature and magnitude of risks varied across options, no option was clearly preferred on the basis of risk factors alone.

Since the benefits of each option are not expected to vary significantly, the commission indicated that its cost evaluation provides the best guide to net community benefit. The cost differential estimated was around $4 billion, it said.

“Small-scale pilots would provide an opportunity for jurisdictions to gain confidence in a commercial approach, gauge the costs and benefits of the capability more precisely and develop a business case for a wider scale roll out,” said Coppel.

“With mobile broadband technology, the potential to achieve interoperability within and across jurisdictions is within reach and would bring significant additional benefits,” he continued.

However, this would depend on jurisdictions agreeing to common interoperability protocols and making arrangements for sharing information and network capacity among agencies.

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians.


  1. Looks like Telstra, TPG and Optus lobbied hard?

    I just don’t understand why not getting the point separate spectrum dedicated for Public safety is for security reasons.

  2. Sweet. When the natural disaster takes out half the network, the emergency services will be able to battle the public for access to contended bandwidth. After all, from a productivity point of view, my boss calling my mobile to see why I am late is just as crucial as a fireman wanting to download the floorplan of a partially collapsed building. Boiling it down to cost considerations exclusively makes government easy!

    • The ND doesn’t have to take out any of it. The increased volume of people just trying to find out info or talk to relatives and friends grinds any mobile network to its knees.

      If there’s some priority QOS based channel for emergency services it might work I guess if not it will be a joke.

      • Feel free to correct me…

        But wouldn’t the request for the dedicated spectrum which would be part of said network actually mitigate some of these congestion problems? Seeing as said spectrum won’t be used by any other providers outside of the emergency services?

        That’s what I’m getting their trying to achieve w/ this. Again if I’m wrong feel free to correct and whatnot =P

        • I’m referring to the commercial system being partially taken down by a ND being a requirement for it to fall in a heap.

          Say an earth quake happened and 100% of mobile towers survived. The panic calling means there’s maybe 20 minutes before calls can’t get through because its congested. Double that for SMS and in an hour its just purely overloaded and there’s no guarantee when/if you’ll get to communicate with who you want too within 12-24hrs.

          Back when landlines were a thing they’re generally projected to cope 3-4x as long which is usually enough to get past most of the initial panic stages so its only physical damage being the major risk.

    • So when a natural disaster takes out half of the network, it’s obvious that the emergency services towers will simply not be affected.

      And yes, apparently they’ve already trialled QoS with success.

  3. I spend some of my time at a state-wide volunteer rescue organisation. We rely on mobile phones for call-outs. Every holiday period here you have a 2-in-3 chance of calls not connecting, or SMSs taking 15 minutes or more to send. During the last three natural disasters in the area it has been virtually impossible to use any of the mobile networks.

    The problem with relying on corporations to provide such services is that they only care for their shareholders, not for any altruistic goals such as public safety. And, as typical, the Productivity Commission has studied the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

  4. A major issue with this approach is that mobile networks in most regional areas are already stretched beyond capacity and network congestion so severe (both voice and data) that the networks are frequently unable to cope with existing traffic. Carriers will not release congestion statistics on their network segments so no one except the carriers themselves are really aware of extent of the congestion. Adding more emergency services traffic on top of existing commercial and consumer traffic without significant infrastructure upgrades and expecting functional outcomes is completely unrealistic.

    Having been recently involved with an Emergency Services unit in a trial of a next generation emergency response application which was meant to test the capability of mobile networks to connect vehicles and a Network Operations Centre to share data in a simulated emergency response situation, network capacity and reliability deficits repeatedly triggered a required fallback onto (expensive) backup satellite capacity. Even if some form of QoS priority could be given to emergency services traffic on the network, unless existing capacity in the access, backhaul and core networks is significantly upgraded, this approach just won’t fly–there just isn’t capacity in the existing networks to make this work.

    While I understand the cost implications of building a separate network for emergency services might make this approach unappealing to government, the cost to taxpayers of upgrading existing carrier networks in regional areas to cope with and accommodate emergency services requirements operating on a prioritised QoS will also be significant. I suspect that those taking the decision to kill this project may not be fully aware of what lies ahead if it is expected that the commercial networks can be configured to deliver an acceptable level of capacity and reliability to make this an acceptable alternative solution to a dedicated network.

  5. This is one of many reasons why mobile infrastructure should have been part of NBN. Nothing else really needs to be said. Our governments suck when it comes to technology decisions.

Comments are closed.