25 March 2015
Media Release - #2015020, 2015

Productivity Commission study into public safety mobile broadband

Joint media release
with the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Minister for Communications
and the Hon Michael Keenan MP
Minister for Justice

The Government has released the Terms of Reference for the Productivity Commission’s cost-benefit analysis on the best way to deliver a mobile broadband capability for public safety agencies.

The Productivity Commission will now commence its analysis into the most efficient and cost-effective way of developing this capability by 2020.

The Terms of Reference task the Productivity Commission with conducting a ‘first principles’ analysis that considers:

  • the relative costs, benefits and risks associated with deploying a dedicated mobile broadband network;
  • the most cost-effective combination of private and public inputs;
  • the ability for the capability to operate nationally, within and across agencies and jurisdictions, and be resilient, secure and sustainable;
  • relevant domestic and intaernational reports and experiences; and
  • the Government’s broader review of the spectrum management framework.

The Productivity Commission will also consult broadly with government and non-government stakeholders in developing its recommendations. This follows detailed consultation with our State and Territory counterparts on the Terms of Reference.

The Productivity Commission is due to report within 9 months.

Public consultation will be undertaken as part of the study, with information available on the Productivity Commission website.

The Terms of Reference for the study are attached.

Public Safety Mobile Broadband, Terms of Reference

I, Joseph Benedict Hockey, Treasurer, pursuant to Parts 2 and 4 of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, hereby request that the Productivity Commission (the Commission) undertake a study into the best way to secure a mobile broadband capability to meet the long term needs of Australia’s public safety agencies (PSAs): the police, fire, ambulance and emergency services.


A robust and effective mobile broadband capability is a critical enabler for Australia’s PSAs. Since June 2011, the Commonwealth has worked with jurisdictions and PSAs – through the
Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) Steering Committee – to consider how best to deliver a strong PSMB capability. On 19 April 2013, COAG transferred responsibility for PSMB from the Steering Committee to COAG Senior Officials and, in doing so, noted the need for PSAs to have adequate capabilities to respond efficiently and effectively when disasters occur.

Delivering a PSMB capability is complex and involves using scarce and valuable resources, such as radiocommunications spectrum, to further the public interest. To inform this work and ensure the best path forward, the Commonwealth considers it appropriate to undertake a rigorous analysis of the most efficient, effective and economical means of developing Australia’s PSMB capability.

Scope of the study

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 interoperability1. 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:
    1. deploying a dedicated PSMB network
    2. an approach that is fully reliant on commercial networks, and/or c. a combination of the two.
  2. The ability for the capability to:
    1. be nationally interoperable, within and across agencies and jurisdictions
    2. operate in both metropolitan and regional Australia
    3. integrate voice communications that are traditionally carried on narrowband networks
    4. maintain integrity and security of communications
    5. ensure accessibility, priority and sufficient capacity for PSAs, particularly during periods of peak demand and during a localised incident
    6. be resilient and maintain continuity of service including under adverse operating circumstances
    7. consider the sustainability of arrangements in the context of rapidly changing technology and increased demand, including convergence of voice and data services
    8. be cost-effective, in terms of both capital and operating cost
    9. be nationally available by or before 2020, and
    10. 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.


The Commission is to consult broadly, including with industry and non-government stakeholders, state and territory governments, and PSAs and relevant Commonwealth agencies.

The Commission will produce a draft and a final Report, both of which will be published. The final Report is to be provided to the Government within nine months of the receipt of these Terms of Reference.



1. This is outlined in the COAG-endorsed National Framework to Improve Government Radiocommunications Interoperability 2010-2020.