Communications minister Paul Fletcher has convened an industry roundtable on telecommunications resilience and repair following the national bushfires.
It is good to see that most of the issues that we discussed here have been addressed. This includes:
- Access to power to achieve better infrastructure resilience. This includes site access and access to emergency fuel stores. (Comment I still believe emergency services should be included if there are access issues to the towers).
- Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) together with Communications Alliance and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) will conduct an industry-wide review into the impact of the bushfires on telecommunications networks, and how the operators responded.
- Communications Alliance will lead, on behalf of industry, the development of a national common operating model for telecommunications disaster management.
- AMTA will work with industry to ensure emergency coordination agencies have better information about the location of critical mobile infrastructure.
- Plans for better industry coordination in relation to advice to residents in affected areas.
- Options for greater network redundancy to support critical services.
- Ways to make better use of wi-fi and satellite services to provide connectivity
- Additional temporary facilities such as Cells On Wheels (COWs)
Telco Service Providers Step Up to Help Firefighters and Bushfire-Affected Customers
Much attention has been focused in recent weeks on the round-the-clock efforts by Australia’s mobile carriers to repair communications infrastructure damaged by the tragic wave of bushfires across the nation and to restore service to all areas.
It should also be recognised that the industry has stepped up to help its customers and firefighters during this tragic and difficult time.
Initiatives put in place include by the carriers include:
• waiving mobile bills for firefighters;
• free access to payphones and to satellite services;
• provision of extra mobile data to impacted customers;
• provision of free mobile wi-fi broadband to those who have lost their homes;
• zero-rating of data used to access emergency services web-sites
• free pausing of mobile services for customers who want that;
• matching the donations that members of the public make to bushfire victims via the carriers’ philanthropic programs; and
• special measures to assist those in financial hardship and struggling to pay their telecommunications bills.
The Communications Alliance Communications Resilience Admin Industry Group (CRAIG) met on 16 January to exchange information on the experience of service providers, to date, during the bushfire disaster and to begin looking at lessons learned and potential future strategies.
The bushfire events are still in progress, so it is too early for industry to reach definitive conclusions. The scale of the bushfire tragedy is unprecedented and has put enormous pressure on telecommunications networks. In the majority of cases the cause of service outages has been the loss of electrical power to communications infrastructure. Most sites, such as mobile base stations, have back-up batteries that kick in when the power is cut, but even the best high-powered batteries will be exhausted during a long break in mains power supply. Many sites also have back-up generators which further extend the emergency life of the site.
Carriers are always looking for ways to further improve network redundancy. During this crisis they have been working around the clock and have deployed additional generators and ‘cells on wheels’ (COWS) to provide temporary service in affected areas, and also brought in satellite-based base stations. All carriers have had success in restoring service in many areas where the power is down or infrastructure is damaged. Work is continuing to restore service in the most heavily damaged locations
The CRAIG looked at a range of issues including inter-carrier cooperation on a range of fronts and the nature of communication and coordination with and among Government stakeholders, agencies, fire-fighting services, the ADF and others.
The service providers acknowledged, with sincere appreciation, the enormous amount of assistance they have received from firefighters and the ADF, particularly in terms of protecting communications infrastructure threatened by the fires across many parts of Australia.
The CRAIG looked at many other issues, including inter-carrier processes, availability of fuel for back-up generators and vehicles, the importance of up to date information on the scheduling of power restoration at specific locations and operational questions about access to fire-affected sites and clearing vegetation around infrastructure.
Telecommunications carriers are not on the ‘priority list’ of recipients for fuel in emergency situations – this is something we would like to see reviewed.
Before the fires took hold we had commenced the development of a new Disaster Management Protocol for the industry and that work will continue as a priority. We will share the views that we form with Government and agencies, with the objective of further improving operational capability and overall network resilience.
Source: newsletter Comms Alliance