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Public safety mobile broadband: research report

Public safety Mobile phones Access to information Australia

This report was released on 12 January 2016 and 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.

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.
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