Government casts eye over telco network resilience in wake of bushfires

Telco industry to work on new disaster management operating model

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Dell EMC

The government says that in the wake of devastating bushfires on Australia’s east coast it will work with the telco sector to assess options that can help improve network redundancy in order to support critical services during disasters.

The aim is to ensure that as well as basic communications, services like banking and EFTPOS will be available in disaster-struck areas.

The government is also backing an ongoing industry discussion into how to make the best use of Wi-Fi and satellite services to provide connectivity in areas where mobile networks are damaged.

Industry group Communications Alliance has agreed to work on developing a national operating model for telecommunications disaster management. The new framework is intended to help make sure that telco interactions with state government disaster agencies are as efficient as possible.

That initiative is one of the outcomes of a roundtable convened by the communications minister, Paul Fletcher.

The event brought together Telstra’s chief executive Andy Penn, Optus’ outgoing CEO Allen Lew, Vodafone Hutchison Australia’s CEO Iñaki Berroeta, NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue as well as TPG chief operating officer Craig Levy.

The government said that along with Communications Alliance it was also attended by representatives of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), the NSW Telco Authority, and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

Telstra, Vodafone and Optus infrastructure in Victoria and New South Wales suffered significant damage from the recent bushfires. In many areas, however, power outages have had a bigger impact on services.

A statement released by Fletcher said that the roundtable discussed creating larger firebreaks around mobile base stations and transmission facilities, sharing information from power providers to help telcos prioritise generator deployment, and providing telcos with access to emergency fuel stores to help keep generators online.

The ACMA will work on an industry-wide review of the impact of the bushfires, and AMTA has agreed to work on ensuring emergency agencies have information about the location of mobile infrastructure.

“While no telecommunications network is 100 per cent impervious to damage from natural disasters, Australians naturally want to be confident our communications networks are as resilient as possible during times of emergency,” Fletcher said in a statement.

The minister said that combination of mobile, fixed line and satellite connectivity along with access to mobile cells on wheels (COWs) and the ability to leverage NBN Co’s satellites have meant there are more options to keep communications up during a disaster.

“This bushfire season is not over yet and may continue into 2020 – the telecommunications industry is working hard to help affected communities and is well-positioned to react quickly to any future bushfires,” Fletcher said.

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