The real story behind the new mobile police and emergency network

By Tom Burton

Friday September 23, 2016

The long battle to secure high-value spectrum to build a dedicated emergency services network for Australian state government police and emergency service operators (ESOs) is reaching an end game, after Telstra announced its own commercial mobile solution would be ready for this summer’s fire season.

Through the system called LANES, Telstra and its European technology partner Ericsson offer ESOs a dedicated slice of Telstra’s LTE spectrum during emergencies, so that ESOs don’t have to share often congested public mobile spectrum. According to Telstra’s national general manager, public safety and security, Alex Stefan, it’s like offering emergency services their very own express lane on the wireless highway.

“The powerful police ministers’ council and the well-connected emergency services union led a high profile lobby to slice off high value spectrum … ”

“This means police, fire and ambulance operatives can share critical information in real time, allowing them to make quick and accurate decisions in the field,” Stefan said at an announcement at Telstra’s major vendor and showcase conference Vantage.

“For example, Telstra LANES Emergency will provide police with access to real-time information, including their identification process that previously relied on a verbal description via the radio network. It also allows them to access mobile data-based services, letting them check photo ID, access comprehensive location data, or real-time CCTV.”

The service has been several years in the testing and almost certainly brings to an end the police and ESO push to build a national purpose-built communications network to enable easy interoperability and cater for the rapid increase in high-bandwidth applications coming from the use of mobile video and drones.

Split camps

The long running battle for a dedicated emergency services network masked a multinational vendor battle and a major diplomatic push to align Australia with the Asian spectrum allocation plan, and away from the US system.

The push by the state ESOs has been strongly supported by US vendor Motorola, which is a major provider of these services in the US and traditionally in Australia.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has been moving to align Australia’s spectrum allocation in line with Asia to take advantage of lower handset and network hardware costs and better co-ordination with the region.

The US services are built on a different spectrum band and would have required Australia to dedicate spectrum not consistent with Australia’s strategic push to align with the Asian region.

For several years the powerful Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management and the well-connected emergency services union and Motorola have led a high profile lobby through Attorney General’s for Canberra to slice off high-value spectrum and to fund the dedicated network.

There was also a powerful US-led lobby put to work in the international spectrum planning forums to support the Motorola play.

This was resisted by ACMA and the Department of Communications and the Arts, who over years have been positive about Telstra and Ericsson coming up with a commercial technology solution using the current broadband mobile spectrum.

This spectrum is very valuable and hugely sought after because it provides the highest quality mobile services for the primary mobile carriers.

Amid the manoeuvring and lobbying, a series of reviews and studies were commissioned over several years, culminating in a recent Productivity Commission report, which found the existing system would have cost $6.2 billion over 20 years to operate. This compared with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion for a commercial option such as the service now unveiled by Telstra.

The Government has not formally responded to the PC report. But given its commitment to reduce spending and an alternative viable network solution, it is highly unlikely Cabinet would support a dedicated dedicated public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) capability.
The ultimate test for the service will be when it is live in real world emergencies and the uptake by ESO’s of the new network.

Also important will be how effectively the service acts as an innovation platform for applications and services developed by the large operator and provider community.

In 2014, LANES was used during the G20 summit in in Brisbane, where the technology helped ensure police from Australia and New Zealand could effectively carry out their operations.

The tale around the provision of a new-generation emergency services communications platform is a case study in the often complicated mix of policy, planning and service provision that governments are required to pull together to ensure a broad solution.

Mixed with major international and local commercial interests and a rapidly changing technology environment, it is a window into the sophistication and capability needed to progress policy and government services.

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