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All the talk at a major conference in Adelaide is about whether our emergency services have enough bandwidth to do their job properly as new technologies emerge.

Australia’s emergency services – police, ambulance, fire brigades – were allocated 10MHz of bandwidth in the ACMA’s spectrum allocation, announced in October 2012. The FCC in the US has allocated 20MHz.

A consensus is emerging that Australia’s allocation is insufficient, and that more will be needed to handle new applications such as predictive policing, which rely on massive amounts of data (so-called Big Data) and high bandwidth applications such as video monitoring to work effectively.

At the Australasian APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials) being held in Adelaide, the issue of bandwidth for was a consistent talking point. ACMA Member Chris Cheah addressed the conference defending the 10MHz allocation, highlighting the vast improvements of the allocated 10MHz over the existing narrowband P25 systems.

But in his keynote address, Motorola Solution’s Senior VP for Government, Bob Schassler, said that 20MHz was needed to address what he called “the wireless data explosion” in emergency services.

“Video will be a big driver. Records show that 90% of cases where there is video evidence are solved. That saves an enormous of time and resources.

“But how much spectrum is enough? It’s not what you do with it today, it’s what you will do with it tomorrow. We see a tenfold increase in bandwidth growth in emergency services in the next few years. Public safety and emergency services have a very different usage profile than most other users of high bandwidth. There are hotspots geographically and peaks by time, both of which vary enormously. And upload is as important as download.”

Schassler was reluctant to get into any discussion over whether Australia’s 10MHz emergency services allocation was sufficient, but did point out that the US (Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year allocated twice that bandwidth. “The government also allocated $7 billion to build a high bandwidth national public safety communications network.”

Schassler told CommsWire that we are at a critical inflection point in emergency services communications. “Once the bandwidth is allocated, we can never get it back. It’s like being built out. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity here. We have not yet started to use high bandwidth in emergency services, but it is about to happen.

“As it is, at the moment our kids have better technology than our emergency services. We need to prioritise public safety, and make sure it doesn’t miss out on the mobile and Big Data revolution. Every dollar spent on public safety returns five dollars to the community.

“There is so much data becoming available, and so many new uses for it. You can’t have too much bandwidth.”

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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