Government rushes 000 tender out, two years ahead of schedule

Two year consultation ditched

Look out, Australia: the government wants to turn the Triple-Zero emergency call service into a fully-agile, IP-enabled multimedia extravaganza.

The office of communications minister "Missing Mitch" Fifield has sent out a media release explaining that the service, currently run under the hand of Telstra, has been put out for bids (at AusTender, here).

An important aspect of the new contract will be to take advantage of improved location accuracy. For years, wrangling over how to hand mobile location information between carriers to 000 held up the capability, because carriers weren't allowed to pass location information across the boundary between networks.

As the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) notes here, those issues were only resolved in 2014. A separate Department of Communications process is developing further mobile location capabilities.

The minister seems to be rushing the process somewhat, since in May, a review of the emergency operation recommended a two-year delay to the tender:

“The Commonwealth should seek to postpone the 2016 tender for the Emergency Call Person for up to two years so that long term policy and technology objectives, including location-based information capability and timing for transition of Triple Zero to an IP based environment, can first be resolved”.

In other words, don't issue a tender until you know the requirements. At the time, the government accepted that advice.

That review also recommended a market testing process for better location information – something being undertaken separately by the Department of Communications.

The tender sets out a quite dull basic requirement: someone who is “capable of providing the Emergency Call Service in accordance with regulatory requirements and capable of meeting community expectations to be able to contact the ECS anytime, anywhere, easily, quickly and free of charge. The contracted supplier will be required to provide the Emergency Call Service for Triple Zero (000) and 112, and will be appointed Emergency Call Person for these numbers.”

Or, as Missing puts it: “The EOI process is the latest step in ensuring all Australians have access to a world-class service which can keep pace with new and innovative technologies … an IP-based environment, which will offer greater flexibility and opportunities to enhance existing functionality”.

The system has been operated by The Big TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance) since it first came into existence in 1961 under the hand of the Postmaster-General's Department.

Since Telstra's been shuttering anything that looked like switched network kit since the 1990s, and the NBN will only have IP-based voice, it's no surprise that Triple-Zero would have to follow suit.

We would, however, note that not everything about the IP transition has gone smoothly. For example, in March Telstra suffered a serious brownout because of problems in the interface between the mobile network and IP-based voice services. ®

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