More mobile broadband spectrum possible for emergency services

Police Federation of Australia open to using 800MHz spectrum

Western Australia Police with Motorola ASTRO P25 digital radios. Photo credit: WA Police.

Western Australia Police with Motorola ASTRO P25 digital radios. Photo credit: WA Police.

The government will ask the Productivity Commission to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the best way to provide mobile broadband to public safety agencies by 2020.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Justice Minister Michael Keenan said they will ask the commission to undertake a “first principles” analysis to determine the most cost-effective combination of private and public inputs, services and expertise.

The ministers also plan to write to their state and territory counterparts, seeking comments on the draft terms of reference for the cost-benefit analysis. When that comes back, the Productivity Commission will consult with government and non-government stakeholders.

“The Commonwealth, State and Territory governments all recognise the potential benefits of an effective national public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) capability for agencies such as police, fire and ambulance services,” Turnbull and Keenan wrote in a joint statement.

“A mobile broadband capability for public safety agencies would allow for an improved response to emergency events and enable better communication within and between jurisdictions.”

The Coalition promised a cost-benefit analysis on public safety mobile broadband before the election more than one year ago.

In the policy position paper sent in September 2013 to the Police Federation of Australia, the Coalition added that it understood public safety agencies’ disappointment at the Labor Party’s support for allocating only 10MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band, which was the recommendation of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The PFA — comprising 58,000 members from police unions and associations — was last year campaigning for the government to give public safety agencies 20MHz of the unsold 700MHz spectrum from the Digital Dividend auction. The Labor Party instead supported returning this unsold spectrum to industry.

Mark Burgess, CEO of the PFA, told Computerworld Australia that his group is now open to spectrum in the 800 MHz band, given challenges taking 700MHz from the telco industry. However, in either band, he said public safety spectrum must receive a minimum of 20MHz of bandwidth so that first responders can have reliable and interoperable mobile broadband communications in a disaster.

Burgess said he hopes that public safety can gain access to the spectrum sooner than the 2020 timeframe stated in today’s announcement.

“It seems a long way out,” he said. “We would hope that we could expedite this inquiry and then let’s start to get the show on the road.”

The cost-benefit analysis represents another step before public safety can have mobile broadband services.

“It’s an issue that’s going to take time,” said Burgess. “The reality is, we’re not aware of any other groups that have had to do a cost-benefit analysis, but if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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