NZ emergency services take critical step in comms overhaul

The New Zealand government will not own the voice-and-data network, allowing its builders to include other revenue streams.

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TBIT (CC0)

The communications capability of New Zealand’s emergency services is set to be overhauled following the issue of a request for proposal (RFP) to establish a 10- to 20-year partnership with providers of cellular network and land mobile radio (LMR) services.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand, New Zealand Police, St John New Zealand, and Wellington Free Ambulance have formed Poutama Whai Tikanga Pāpāho – the Next Generation Critical Communications (NGCC), which is responsible for the delivering Te Kupenga Marutau – Public Safety Network programme (PSN). The programme will be deployed with support from Crown Infrastructure Partners, the agency originally formed to carry out the Ultra Fast Broadband Network.

Public Safety Network expected to use data and voice services

The current network being used by emergency services is as old as 30 years, with much of the existing infrastructure expected to reach end of life by 2023. The new network will go beyond voice to include data. “The PSN programme follows a worldwide trend for emergency services to increasingly supplement voice communication with text, images, and video through increased use of data and messaging to communicate information such as status and location,” the RFP reads.

The services out for bid include include priority cellular service, a mission-critical platform, and a personal alerting service to replace the current paging services. According to the NGCC website, the combined services employ 39,000 staff and respond to about 5 million calls a year.

Government will invest in, but not own, the network

Total funding for the programme is commercially sensitive, but an NCGG spokesperson told CIO New Zealand in September 2020 that “to initiate the programme on behalf of emergency services $15 million (appropriated in the 2019 budget) was invested. An investment of $47.8 million, across four years, was allocated in the government’s 2020 budget for procurement to commence.”

While the government is investing substantially in the network, it doesn’t intend to own it, and instead the platform could provide services to other organisations and whoever gets the project would “have the opportunity to develop new revenue streams from their extended network capability.”

The rationale for this approach appears to be to incent commercial partners to ensure the PSN “stays current with modern technology.”

Previously the then-NCGG lead entity director Chris Goldsmith told CIO New Zealand that one way to ensure a network doesn’t become outdated is to eschew the capital-investment, owner-operator model and instead adopt an operating model where solutions are bought off the shelf. “Buying services which are as standardised and generic as possible helps you in terms of keeping the bulk of your capability on the global roadmap for upgrades.” (Goldsmith is no longer in the role and a new lead entity director is being recruited.)

The deadline for PSN programme proposals is April 2021, with successful bidders expected to be announced in December 2021.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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