Fires lead to fibre call
The current Australian bushfire season has exposed a need for more resilient telecommunications.
Bushfires have seen mobile coverage, the National Broadband Network (NBN) and even some radio services knocked offline in NSW.
In many cases, people have been left relying on landlines, which run on old copper cable systems and still function without power.
The copper networks are being scrapped as part of the NBN rollout, creating concern that residents will be left entirely cut off.
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde wants the old copper network maintained, and for new telecommunications infrastructure to be buried underground.
“What you need is a national emergency telecommunications plan — get our telecommunications companies together and then we can find solutions,” Mr Budde said.
“With this crisis at hand, we can get the Government to start considering these long term options and long term funding … for communications safety in rural and regional areas.”
He said a fibre-optic cable network should be extended to rural and regional areas.
“While that might be costly … I think on the other side, the social, economic benefits are as important, if not more important in situations like this.”
Amanda Leck, director of community safety at the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services, says experts have been concerned about NBN failures in a disaster situation for several years.
“I think that this is a big discussion … to look at all the infrastructure and supply chain, and effectively what needs to be hardened for future disaster risk,” Ms Leck said.
“We all knew that the NBN would crap out almost immediately, and it did.”
Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said it is impossible to entirely fire-proof the system.
“The existing local loop, the copper local loop is not impervious to bushfires,” he said.
“If a bushfire goes through and power is lost to an exchange then services will cease operating.
“There will be detailed reviews both within the individual telcos and more broadly as to the lessons we can learn about network resilience in the face of severe bushfires.”
NBN told reporters that people should be more prepared.
“We do advise customers that their NBN service will not work in a power outage, and it is always wise to keep mobile devices charged in the event of an emergency,” NBN said in a statement.
With over 100 mobile phone towers impacted on the NSW south coast, Telstra said it would work with others to improve network resilience.
“All of our back-up power systems contain high powered batteries, with our larger sites including generators and batteries,” the company said.
“We deploy the best quality batteries with the longest capacity available in the telecommunications industry, however even these will run down during extended power outages and we are only able to replace them or refill generators once the authorities give us the all-clear to go into a fire zone.
“With that, we are always looking at ways to improve the redundancy across the network, and will continue to do so throughout and post the bushfire recovery efforts.”