Reseller News

Crown Infrastructure takes on delivery of massive new emergency comms network

Current radio system "unreliable" and "endangering operations and lives", a project brief says

Crown Infrastructure Partners, the state company that led the Ultrafast Broadband rollout, has a new job: delivering a new national digital communications network for New Zealand's emergency services.

Police had been leading the Next Generation Critical Communications (NGCC) programme market engagement on behalf of Fire and Emergency NZ, St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance, but closed its tender-related notices on the GETS tender website earlier this month.

At the same time, Crown Infrastructure (CIP) announced it would lead the procurement and delivery of new network capabilities as the consortium's delivery partner.

"All further notifications relating to the procurement of the NGCC Project will be published on GETS by CIP, and NZ Police (lead entity) has closed its NGCC GETS notification accordingly," the notice said.

"CIP plans to undertake pre-procurement market engagement and will publish a further notice on GETS in due course. 

The NGCC programme was voted $15 million in last year's budget to initiate the programme, establish governance arrangements and prepare for a procurement to replace the existing emergency communications systems, which are approaching end-of-life.

However, that existing system has to be kept up and running in parallel, according to a mid-2018 project concept brief, which said full transition would happen by the end of 2023.

Emergency services agencies currently use a combination of commercial and owned/operated radio and paging networks to provide their critical communications, supplemented with commercial cellular services for high speed data services.

However, the brief describes this system as "unreliable" and "endangering operations and lives" as well as being unable to utilise modern communications, which in turn hindered continuous improvements to the delivery of services.

Current state circa mid 2018.Credit: .
Current state circa mid 2018.

The government also voted $22.2 million in last year's budget to ensure those current critical communications radio networks remained operational until the transition to the NGCC was complete.

Another goal of the project is to achieve "common, centrally controlled governance" of the new system compared with current "disparate" arrangements.

A police spokesperson told Reseller News accountability for the NGCC programme had been transferred to a business unit hosted by NZ Police.

"This new business unit has an independent board made up of executive representatives from NZ Police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and Ambulance, as well as four independent directors," the spokesperson said.

That business unit is responsible for the delivery of the NGCC programme, the spokesperson said.

"Crown Infrastructure Partners has been engaged as a delivery partner and is responsible for the procurement and initial delivery management of the network infrastructure."

The new business unit retained responsibility for integration of new telco services into agencies; all device and equipment deployment; the transition of agencies on to the new capability; and decommissioning of all existing arrangements.

"This approach was taken after market engagement and is in line with a general government approach of having single points of engagement wherever possible," the spokesperson said. 

"Furthermore, Crown Infrastructure Partners bring extensive experience with the New Zealand telco sector."

That is important because the concept brief shows the NGCC intended to use commercial cellular networks extensively.

"Ideally the full complement of services could be delivered to all users across 100 per cent of New Zealand through investing in expansion of commercial cellular," the brief said. 

"The NGCC Programme will invest in expanding existing commercial cellular networks to commercially non-viable areas and to improve service quality in many areas, however there is a practical limit where investment in permanent coverage is not justifiable or even possible."

At that point it was envisaged that satellite based communications would be used to flesh out coverage.

"Vehicles fitted with satellite equipment will allow critical communications services to be maintained seamlessly as they move in and out of primary coverage," the brief said.

"The vehicles can then act as relays, extending a ‘bubble’ of coverage for people to use."

That architecture, if it proceeded, would require access to radio spectrum to facilitate itinerant coverage, including vehicle-based portable cell sites, and possibly to address access constraints under severe congestion scenarios, a 2018 submission on a review of radio spectrum management said.

"For these scenarios, a dedicated spectrum allocation would be desirable to meet the needs of emergency services."