Emergency fast LANES overtake spectrum debate

The Productivity Commission is looking at the best way to satisfy national public safety mobile broadband needs. But there’s a new technology that looks likely to get a guernsey because it sidesteps the debate around increasingly valued chunks of radio spectrum.

Police and emergency services want the benefit of modern digital mobile devices without having to compete for bandwidth in crowded places, and governments want to give it to them. The only question is how, but after years of consultation and debate we are still far from a settled answer.

A separate nationwide public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) network is a relatively simple concept with clear public value, given normal mobile cells can become clogged with traffic during major disaster events, large protests, at crowded music festivals or in city centres during big events like New Year’s Eve.

But the pros and cons of various options for achieving that end have for several years been mired in a complex argument around spectrum allocations, where the line between technical expertise and lobbying from vested interests is hard to discern. There are hopes that a long-promised cost-benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission, which finally received terms of reference in late March, will reach a sensible conclusion and allow a concrete plan to be formed.  ” … great use of LTE technology for the public good [and] an important example of how to deliver essential services with an approach that can work in all markets.”

The commission is charged with determining “the most efficient, effective and economical way of delivering this capability by 2020” — by which time the Council of Australian Governments hopes to have in place a national framework for government communications interoperability. The commission’s independence will be crucial here, given the political perils of disagreeing with public safety agencies — who have formed very specific views in this case — and the difficulty of picking between conflicting technical advice.

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