29 September 2015

Public Safety Broadband

The Productivity Commission has released its draft Public Safety Mobile Broadband report regarding "the best way to deliver a Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) capability for emergency services that is reliable, interoperable and works across Australia".

The terms of reference are -
The Commission is to undertake a 'first principles' analysis of the most efficient, effective and economical way of delivering this capability by 2020, to coincide with the nationally agreed framework to improve government radio communications, including interoperability.
Particular regard should be given to:
1. The most cost-effective combination of private and public inputs, services and expertise to deliver the capability. This should include an assessment of the relative costs, benefits and risks of: a. deploying a dedicated PSMB network b. an approach that is fully reliant on commercial networks, and/or c. a combination of the two.
2. The ability for the capability to: a. be nationally interoperable, within and across agencies and jurisdictions b. operate in both metropolitan and regional Australia c. integrate voice communications that are traditionally carried on narrowband networks d. maintain integrity and security of communications e. ensure accessibility, priority and sufficient capacity for PSAs, particularly during periods of peak demand and during a localised incident f. be resilient and maintain continuity of service including under adverse operating circumstances g. consider the sustainability of arrangements in the context of rapidly changing technology and increased demand, including convergence of voice and data services h. be cost-effective, in terms of both capital and operating cost i. be nationally available by or before 2020, and j. be compatible with a variety of end-user devices.
3. Relevant domestic and international reports and experiences (e.g. work underway through the Asia Pacific Telecommunity Wireless Group (AWG), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and implementation of similar capability in other countries) that may be applicable to Australia.
In conducting the analysis, the Commission is to have regard to the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) role as the independent national regulator and technical expert on communications matters, with final decision-making responsibility for allocation of and conditions of access to spectrum. The Commission should also, where practicable, have regard to the Government's broader review of the spectrum policy and management framework. Based on information provided by PSAs about their operational requirements, the ACMA has previously conducted an engineering analysis into the spectrum requirements for a PSMB capability. This analysis was carried out within parameters established by the Public Safety Mobile Broadband Steering Committee (PSMBSC) and the Terms of Reference for that committee. However, spectrum alone will not achieve a PSMB capability as infrastructure and supporting networks with compatible end-user equipment are required.
The Commission's analysis is concerned with an overall consideration of the most efficient, effective and economical way of delivering this capability, including a re-evaluation of user needs and project requirements given the passage of time.
Key points •in the draft report are -
  •  Public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) holds considerable potential to improve how the police, fire, ambulance and other public safety agencies (PSAs) deliver their services. It will allow frontline officers to access high speed video, images, location tracking and much more.
  • PSAs currently rely on their own radio networks for voice communications and some low speed data. Mobile broadband use has been modest due to concerns that the quality of commercial services is insufficient to support ‘mission critical’ operations. 
  • The network capacity that PSAs require is uncertain. PSAs are seeking a higher quality of service than what is currently available on commercial networks. However, the standards required (in terms of coverage, reliability, security, priority access and so on) are not specific. 
  •  There are many ways to provide a PSMB capability, including the construction of a dedicated network, a commercial approach, or some combination (hybrid) of the two. A dedicated network would give PSAs access to (and control over) their own PSMB network using their own parcel of spectrum. A commercial approach would mean that PSAs obtain PSMB services from one or more of the commercial mobile carriers through a contract for service..
  • The Commission has undertaken an illustrative evaluation of the costs of several specific delivery options over a 20 year period. The cost of a dedicated network was estimated to be in the order of $6.1 billion, compared to $2.1 billion for a commercial option. Even the lowest cost hybrid option is twice as expensive as a commercial option. 
  • A commercial option is cheaper because it requires significantly less ‘new investment’ than a dedicated or hybrid option as considerable existing infrastructure could be used or shared. 
  •  Risk factors also influence the relative merits of different options.  A dedicated network would likely take longer to deliver and offer less flexibility to scale up network capacity in the short term, relative to other options. Providing priority services under commercial or hybrid options would be more technically complex than under a dedicated option. There are also commercial risks arising from limited competition and supplier ‘lock in’. 
  • The benefits of each option are not expected to vary markedly, since the options under evaluation have been designed to deliver a similar level of PSMB capability. On that basis, the cost evaluation is likely to provide the best guide to net community benefit for each option. 
  • On first principles, a commercial approach represents the most efficient, effective and economical way of delivering a PSMB capability to PSAs. 
  • Small scale trials would provide an opportunity for jurisdictions to gain confidence in a commercial approach; gauge the costs, benefits and risks of PSMB; and develop a business case for a wider scale roll out. 
  • Competitive procurement is essential. Splitting up tenders, leveraging infrastructure assets and insisting on open technology standards can help governments secure value for money. 
  • Achieving interoperability will require jurisdictions to agree on common technical standards. PSAs will also need to adapt their operations to make the most of PSMB. This includes protocols for sharing information and network capacity among agencies. 
  • Spectrum allocation is an Australian Government responsibility. Any spectrum made available for PSMB should be priced at its opportunity cost to support its efficient use.