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Public safety mobile broadband

Research report

Released 12 / 01 / 2016

This report considers the relative costs, benefits and risks of a range of options for delivering a public safety mobile broadband capability, including deploying a dedicated network, relying on commercial networks, or pursuing some combination (or hybrid) of the two.

Download the report

Government response

  • At a glance
  • Contents summary
  • Quantitative analysis

Key points

  • 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 is estimated to be in the order of $6.2 billion, compared to $2.2 billion for a commercial option. Even the lowest-cost hybrid option is about 32 per cent more expensive than 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, offers less flexibility to scale up network capacity in the short term and risks future technology upgrades being delayed.
    • There are risks arising from limited competition and supplier lock-in under a commercial approach, and the precise service levels that could or would be achieved are uncertain.
  • The benefits of each option are not expected to vary markedly, since the options under evaluation have been designed to deliver a similar level and quality of PSMB capability.
  • On first principles, a commercial approach represents the most efficient, effective and economical way of delivering a PSMB capability to PSAs.
  • Small-scale pilots would help jurisdictions 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 protocols covering matters such as network technology, spectrum, end-user devices and applications. And to make the most of PSMB, PSAs within each jurisdiction will need to agree on protocols for sharing information and — where a PSMB capability is shared — network capacity.
  • Australian Government intervention in spectrum allocation is not necessary to support a PSMB capability. Spectrum should be priced at its opportunity cost to support its efficient use.

Media release

Private Telcos best for public safety mobile broadband

Commercial carriers are the most cost effective option for delivering a public safety mobile broadband capability to public safety agencies, according to a Productivity Commission report released today.

Mobile broadband technology represents a significant opportunity to save lives and property, improve officer safety and drive productivity gains in the delivery of public safety. It will allow frontline officers to access high-speed video, images, location tracking and much more.

However, mobile broadband use is unlikely to increase significantly until a public safety grade service — superior to services offered by commercial carriers today — is available.

The report evaluates a range of options for delivering a public safety mobile broadband capability to Australian public safety agencies, including use of a dedicated network, an existing commercial network, and combinations (or hybrids) of the two.

The Commission found that the commercial option would be significantly lower cost than a dedicated or hybrid option. 'A commercial option is substantially lower cost because considerable existing infrastructure could be used or shared, meaning significantly less new investment is required', said Commissioner Jonathan Coppel.

The Commission has assessed the risks of each option. While the nature and magnitude of risks varied across options, no option was clearly preferred on the basis of risk factors alone.

Since the benefits of each option are not expected to vary markedly, the Commission considers that its cost evaluation provides the best guide to net community benefit. The cost differential estimated was of the order of $4 billion.

'Small-scale pilots would provide an opportunity for jurisdictions to gain confidence in a commercial approach, gauge the costs and benefits of the capability more precisely and develop a business case for a wider scale roll out,' said Commissioner Jonathan Coppel.

'With mobile broadband technology, the potential to achieve interoperability within and across jurisdictions is within reach and would bring significant additional benefits' said Commissioner Jonathan Coppel. However, this will depend on jurisdictions agreeing to common interoperability protocols and making arrangements for sharing information and network capacity among agencies.

Download the infographic

Public Safety Mobile Broadband infographic. Text version follows.

Public Safety Mobile Broadband (Text version of infographic)

We evaluated a range of options for delivery of a PSMB capability:

  • Dedicated network
  • Commercial network
  • Combinations of both.

We found that private telcos are the best option to deliver a PSMB capability to public safety agencies.

Mobile broadband technology is an opportunity to:

  • save lives and property
  • improve officer safety
  • increase public safety productivity

A public safety grade service is needed to encourage use.

The full report is available above.

Chapter 1 provides relevant background to the study.

Chapter 2 reviews the current state of public safety communications and the associated shortcomings.

Chapter 3 identifies the opportunities that mobile broadband offers PSAs and factors that may be limiting uptake to date.

Chapter 4 assesses PSA requirements for mobile broadband and develops a set of scenarios to guide quantitative analysis of delivery options.

Chapter 5 investigates the technical feasibility of, and cost drivers associated with, different approaches for deploying PSMB.

Chapter 6 evaluates the costs, benefits and risks of a set of specific delivery options for PSMB, using both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Chapter 7 discusses the broader institutional, governance, regulatory and procurement aspects of implementing a PSMB capability.

Appendices support the analysis in the main body of the report.

Appendix A lists the individuals and organisations that participated in the study.

Appendix B reviews past work undertaken in Australia and relevant international experiences with delivering a PSMB capability.

Appendix C provides the full technical details regarding the quantitative analysis undertaken by the Commission.

Appendix D provides the referee report for the analysis.

Quantitative analysis for evaluating costs

The Commission has undertaken quantitative analysis as part of evaluating the costs of different options for delivering a PSMB capability. Details of the quantitative analysis are documented in Appendix C of the study report. The Commission is also making publicly available the computer files to run the analysis under the conditions set out below.

Download the files

Productivity Commission conditions for using the computer files

  1. The Commission will not provide users of these programs with any support.
  2. The Commission accepts no liability for any errors in the programs.
  3. Users of the programs, including users that derive new variations of the model, should acknowledge the Productivity Commission. The appropriate citation is:

    Productivity Commission 2015, Public Safety Mobile Broadband, Research Report, Canberra.

In downloading these files, you accept these conditions.

Program and system requirements

Users of these files will require access to the program, R, in order to run the quantitative analysis. R is open source and can be downloaded from

Additionally, sufficient computing power and memory is required to run the core model as well as all the sensitivity analyses.

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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