Telstra launches dedicated emergency services mobile network

Firefighters, police and ambulance workers will get priority on Telstra's mobile network this summer after the telco announced the launch of LANES Emergency service on its 4G network.

The technology unlocks a secret congestion-free network only available to emergency services officers provided with an orange SIM card.

However,  some agencies say they still want the government to provide spectrum for emergency services, rather than making publicly-funded bodies "captive to one commercial carrier".

Like the emergency lane on a highway, LANES gives first responders a clear path on a congested network.  It will be up to emergency services if they keep orange SIMs installed all the time, or insert them for emergencies and festivals.

Telstra says it has provided enough capacity – 160 Megahertz – for multiple live video streaming that can be used for things like watching drone footage or conference calling.

The technology has been tested at Woodford Folk Festival, the G20 and last year's AFL Grand Final, events where people struggle to get reception on congested mobile networks.

"Through LANES we can offer Emergency Services priority data access on our 4G network or on a dedicated and partitioned spectrum for their exclusive use," Telstra's national general manager public safety, Alex Stefan said. Pricing is not yet available.

During the G20 trial in Brisbane police officers used LANES for remote access to their database and to stream footage from the council's network of security cameras. There was enough capacity for up to 200,000 officers nationwide to use the network simultaneously, Mr Stefan added.

However, the announcement is controversial because the federal government is currently deciding whether or not to grant emergency services their own spectrum. A Productivity Commission inquiry found it would cost about $4 billion to provide a dedicated spectrum, rather than using a commercial solution like LANES.

But the Police Federation of Australia worries about future costs if all agencies are forced to use Telstra.

"Just because LANES is rolled out it doesn't mean that public safety doesn't need its own spectrum," the federation's chief executive Mark Burgess said.

With its own allocation public safety agencies could choose which carrier to use in each region and have "some control over their own destiny".  Telstra's network has suffered outages recently, he added.

"[LANES] does not satisfy the overall requirements for public safety ... and it becomes a captive on one commercial carrier. And I don't think that is in anyone's interest," Mr Burgess said.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which manages spectrum, said it would "await the government's consideration of the Productivity Commission's report".

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