Industry body the Communications Alliance will also develop a new national model for telcos’ disaster management, governing their interactions with government agencies.
The meeting canvassed a range of measures to toughen infrastructure, including increased clearing of bush around mobile base stations and transmitters, boosted information sharing from energy companies to allow targeted deployment of emergency generators, and enabling telcos to access emergency fuel stores for back-up power.
Telcos will also examine improved “redundancy” in networks so people have back-up services available during disasters, improved use of WiFi and satellite technology when mobile networks are down, and rolling out more temporary facilities like “cell on wheels” base stations.
“This bushfire season is not over yet and may continue into 2020 – the telecommunications industry is working hard to help affected communities and is well-positioned to react quickly to any future bushfires,” Mr Fletcher said.
John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, said the attendees agreed to examine a range of ways to strengthen network resilience.
“There’s potential for improvement on a whole range of fronts, notwithstanding the fact that networks have been protected reasonably well during these fires and recovery of services has been pretty successful,” he said.
Scores of mobile base stations have been knocked out over the course of the bushfire season, leaving people cut off from contact with emergency services and unable to pay for essential supplies. Telcos have scrambled to restore services, rolling out satellite trucks, portable reception towers and repairing base stations.
When the bushfire crisis was peaking in early January, around 150 mobile base stations were offline across Victoria, NSW and South Australia. More than half were back online within four days and the vast majority have since been remedied.
“The discussions were constructive and we look forward to implementing the agreed actions and to industry working together to pool critical resources and coordinate information to affected communities in future,” Vodafone chief executive Iñaki Berroeta said.
Similarly, Optus’ vice president of regulatory and public affairs, Andrew Sheridan, said the roundtable was constructive.
“We very much welcomed today’s telecommunications industry roundtable, which provided an opportunity to constructively discuss industry response to the recent bushfire crisis,” Mr Sheridan said. “Mobile networks have remained overwhelmingly resilient during the this intense bushfire season with power supply being a key factor in network availability.”
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Zoe Samios is a media and telecommunications reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.