Australia’s main police, ambulance and fire agencies have their own dedicated radio bands, but need more rich communication between officers and dispatch to use 21st century tools like GPS, smartphones, tablets and the internet. A draft Productivity Commission report recommends using mobile broadband from commercial telcos like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone rather than cordoning off mobile spectrum and constructing a $6 billion dedicated public safety broadband network.
Australia’s public safety agencies — police, ambulance and fire authorities throughout the country in both metropolitan and regional areas — primarily use voice and text for their communications, but are increasingly requiring data connectivity, and mobile broadband (MBB), to do their jobs better. Fire and Rescue NSW, for example, already runs data-connected tablets in first responder vehicles to share information on incidents in progress, and also uses MBB data to monitor the locations of officers and vehicles in real time. Victoria Police uses ‘net-connected devices to simplify family violence reporting, and NSW ambulances can collect and transmit patient data to hospitals while en-route.
But it’s suggested that rather than setting up a separate data network for police, fire and ambulance agencies, that government instead allocate around $2 billion over 20 years to use the 3G, 4G and future-G networks from commercial operators like Telstra and Optus. This is a third of the cost of setting up a dedicated standalone network on cordoned spectrum, and still half the cost of the cheapest commercial-dedicted hybrid option. One of the advantages of going with the commercial option is cost competitiveness through tendering — basically playing the main telcos against each other to offer the best possible deal.
At the moment, the public safety agencies are relatively restricted to using mostly voice and text messaging for communications. A public safety mobile broadband solution is expected to be implemented in the next five years — when Telstra and competitors are expected to start rolling out 5G — and would allow real-time video, images, location tracking and biometrics crucial for monitoring the health and work situations of Australia’s firefighters, police officers, and ambulance drivers and paramedics.
The recommendations are made in a 400-page draft report from the Productivity Commission, an arms-length government advisory agency used to evaluate economic and social issues. The report was commissioned under the previous government of Tony Abbott, and was requested by then-Treasurer Joe Hockey. Here’s an infographic presented by the Productivity Commission to explain the situation and the potential for public safety mobile bradband in the future: