Safety and emergency services across Australia are being invited to join an ambitious trial of a high bandwidth, mobile network that will underpin a whole suite of high-tech, digitally-enabled, services for police, ambulance and fire first responders.
Up to 250 public safety agencies could be part of the real world trial that will support services such as widespread use of drones, on-body video, remote device management, and data driven location and intelligence apps.
At present, safety and emergency agencies largely use multiple two-way radio networks. These do not easily intercommunicate and have less functionality – such as support for video – than mobile broadband networks underpinned by, today, 4G or LTE cellular mobile technology and, in the near future, by 5G.
By using these latest generation mobile networks, safety and emergency agencies will also be able to exploit the global innovation coming from new large scale cloud computing platforms, smart data analytics applications, and powerful artificial intelligence systems.
The proof-of-concept (PoC) trial comes as the rapid emergence of all-digital communication and business systems present government policy thinkers with a powerful chance to reconsider the whole area of mission-critical infrastructure.
The PoC trial is being led by the NSW Government’s Telco Authority. The Authority has a specific statutory mandate to consolidate the NSW Government’s communications networks and has taken a national leadership role to drive what many believe will be a game changing modernisation of Australia’s broader mission critical infrastructure.
In late October the Telco Authority issued a formal request to test a PoC of the national public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) capability.
It marked the latest step in almost a decade of deliberation around who would run the network and what spectrum would be made available, undertaken amidst much political lobbying by public safety agencies, vendors and carriers.
The Productivity Commission was brought in to consolidate government thinking and in its late 2015 report, found: “Use of mobile broadband applications has the potential to improve the quality of public safety services, the operational efficiency of public safety agencies and the safety of officers.”
Specific responsibility to “[progress] the development of a national public safety mobile broadband capability and associated national framework for public safety communications” was given to Emergency Management Australia (EMA), a division of the mega Department of Home Affairs, formed in late 2016.
In May 2017 the states and territories, under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), set up a working group to “progress work towards a nationally interoperable PSMB capability.” That group developed a set of National Objectives for a PSMB network and a set of High-Level Requirements.
The NSW Telco Authority has been charged with facilitating the development of this network on behalf of, and with participation from, all states and territories.
In this role the Authority earlier this year issued a request for expressions of interest (RFI) to identify the potential service delivery model that could meet the objectives for a PSMB network and, at a high level, the requirements for such a network. The October 24 RFP for a proof of concept has drawn on information gathered through that process.
The PoC will be implemented in a number of stages, starting with lab trials and, if these are successful, progressing to a real-world trial in phase 3. The RFP says that the states and territories expect up to 250 public safety agency users at any one time could be involved in this real-world trial.
The PoC architecture and the PoC test plan and test environment have been developed by examining the most advanced comparable initiatives overseas to understand international best practice and a thorough appraisal of key technologies and expected future developments.
The RFP also calls for the PoC to demonstrate provision of services in areas where there is presently no network infrastructure. Accordingly the RFP calls for trials, in phase 4, of “innovative coverage solutions that … may include portable microcells, vehicle meshing capabilities and drones.”
It is still very early days for this project, but the RFP, the National Objectives document and the High Level Requirements document produced by COAG identify many of the issues that agencies operating or using two-way radio networks today will need to consider as they transition to a PSMB network.
The network is not expected to completely replace existing networks but will “complement and, where appropriate, be integrated with jurisdictional land mobile radio capabilities.”
Agencies will need to plan and prepare if they are to make full use of new functionality the PSMB will bring. Many of these features will require new devices to exploit them. Agencies will need to understand these features, decide where and how they can be used and budget for the devices to support them.
One of the most important PSMB features is mission critical push-to-talk, which offers functionality similar to that of mobile radio networks widely used by public and emergency services, but with additional capabilities.
PSMB networks based on LTE technology also enable specified users and applications to be given priority access to network capacity and facilities. Agencies will need to develop policies and procedures, and collaboration with network operators, to make use of these capabilities.
The network will also support a whole range of, as yet undetermined, application programming interfaces (APIs). These will enable applications to be developed that make use of PSMB capabilities such as user location, presence, and group communications.
Meanwhile as agencies prepare for the introduction of a PSMB based on LTE (aka 4G) they will need to start thinking further ahead, to a PSMB network based on the next generation of mobile broadband technology, 5G.
Telecommunication network operators, in Australia and elsewhere, are now well advanced with preparations to 5G mobile broadband services, based on 5G technologies. All agencies using a future PSMB network will need to understand, and prepare for, the additional functionality that 5G will bring to that network.