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$1.4 billion tech project - and this time it goes to local vendors

Peter Griffin, Editor. 15 November 2022, 11:03 am
$1.4 billion tech project - and this time it goes to local vendors

The country’s 35,000 emergency services staff and volunteers will have access secure digital radio communications and data services delivered via the mobile network as a $1.4 billion, 10-year deal is struck to build the new Public Safety Network.

Police, fire and ambulance services currently use digital and analogue radio and mobile services to keep in communication with their operations centres and each other and to access important information to help them keep us safe.

But the network is fragmented and patchy, particularly in rural areas. The Public Safety Network has been in the planning for years and will offer a single nationwide service, including digital radio and “multi-network priority cellular broadband capability for voice, video, messaging and data, “in urban, state highway and rural areas commonly accessed by our frontline staff,” according to New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and the heads of the other emergency services.

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Secure digital radio nationwide is coming for emergency services - source NCGG

It’s the second large, national technology deal to be announced recently by the government, following the news that transport payment cards will be phased out in favour of a universal system across 13 regions that will cost $1.3 billion to roll out and operate over 15 years.

That system will see US transport technology company Cubic install its technology on buses, trains and ferries around the country, starting in Canterbury in 2024. That announcement sparked grumbles that a New Zealand vendor hadn’t been selected for the job. Wellington-based Snapper, for instance, faces an uncertain future as its technology is superseded by the new Cubic system.

But the Public Safety Network will be built by local vendors. Tait Kordia Joint Venture, established by state-owned infrastructure operator Kordia and iconic Christchurch-based radio hardware maker Tait Communications, will build and run the Digital Land Mobile Radio network.

Roaming across networks

Hourua, a Vodafone/Spark joint venture, will build and run the Prioritised Cellular Services and Roaming solution. As the name implies, that service will offer priority access to the mobile networks of Vodafone and Spark for emergency services. If one network is compromised, emergency services traffic will automatically switch to the other one.

“It gives us enormous confidence to know the Public Safety Network has been designed to operate as the ‘last network standing’ in the event of a significant natural disaster, and that emergency services will have priority network access in such an event where there is congestion and degradation,” the emergency services bosses said in a joint statement.

Kordia’s in-house field services team will be responsible for the installation of infrastructure, as well as maintenance of over 450 sites, while Kordia’s Network Operations Centres will monitor the network infrastructure 24/7 to ensure the best performance.

An aspect of the network will be offering the ability to track the location of first responders at all time, improving their safety.

Ham radio enthusiasts have lamented the slow death of analogue radio services used by the emergency services as digital radio has emerged. The new network will make that universal, offering encrypted communications that can’t be intercepted.

The government entity representing the four emergency services, Next Generation Critical Communications, chaired by former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe,  is responsible for developing the new Public Safety Network on behalf of Fire and Emergency, Police, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance. Priority mobile services will be turned on from mid-2023 onwards.

The priority access for emergency services would be delivered “through the use of LTE Quality of Service, Priority and Pre-emption (QPP) network features,” according to Spark and Vodafone. 

“This will ensure that emergency responders are able to keep in touch on the phone as well as using apps that are required to deliver their roles effectively.”


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