ACMA announces consolidated government spectrum

The Australian government's spectrum regulator has announced the availability of the 400MHz band for governments to consolidate their spectrum licences.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced that it will be implementing an option for all governments to consolidate their spectrum licences down to just one in the 400MHz band.

According to the government agency, this will lead to substantial cost savings, as well as more efficient use of spectrum.

"In the 400MHz band, a major cooperative effort has reached the halfway point ... perhaps, most importantly, delivering harmonised government spectrum in the band, which is a critical element in achieving nationwide inter-operability," Richard Bean, who became acting ACMA chairman last month after Chris Chapman's 10-year tenure as chairman ended, said at the ACMA's RadComms event in Sydney on Wednesday.

"I can announce today the creation of a new flexible licensing option for government licensees in the 400MHz band. Under this option, state government, for example, will be able to consolidate its thousands of licences down to just one, dramatically reducing management overhead, providing additional technical flexibility, and enabling a more coordinated approach to spectrum use.

Bean added that the migration of existing government services is "well advanced", with wireless communication requirements being consolidated across multiple government agencies.

The ACMA in February released its strategy for allocating and refarming mobile broadband spectrum, identifying a more flexible and "holistic" approach for allocating spectrum rather than the previous strictly quantitative process.

The ACMA outlined five strategies for ensuring mobile broadband capacity into the future: Taking into consideration spectrum, technology, and network infrastructure when addressing mobile broadband capacity growth; determining a transparent spectrum management process for identifying options for mobile broadband spectrum; making use of the lengthy period of time prior to additional spectrum being required so as to minimise the impact on telcos of refarming; examining sharing of spectrum between mobile broadband and other services; and engaging in international discussions on and influencing harmonised spectrum options.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus hailed the mobile broadband strategy on Wednesday, saying it "reflects the times", has a "high level of transparency", and balances efficiency, flexibility, certainty, and simplicity.

"The suite of five strategies broadly get a thumbs up from us," Althaus said at RadComms.

Althaus added that spectrum regulation must keep pace with technological innovation.

"The regulatory system that is so fundamental to the ACMA must evolve in the same way that the market and the industry is, to reflect the changes that we're having to cope with, and to enable those changes to occur efficiently," Althaus said at RadComms.

"Infrastructure is such a critical part of that equation, and of course spectrum is central to that."

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) secretary-general Houlin Zhao, the keynote speaker, emphasised the importance of spectrum in the world today.

"It's my full belief that in the future, nothing can happen, nothing can be that effective, nothing can be enjoyed by people if it's not linked with spectrum," he said.

The tech giants of the world are all chiming in on spectrum discussions, the ITU secretary-general said, because it is becoming critical to service delivery.

"Google, Facebook, and others joined the ITU as new members, and this year, on 19th of February, ITU announced the latest member of Alibaba. Those internet giants, one after the other, started to join the ITU," he said.

"Facebook and Google came to join ITU mainly for spectrum-related issues ... Amazon also joined the ITU because they'd like to use drones to deliver their goods. They told me that in future, this new service will require lots of spectrum harmonisation."

Such international spectrum harmonisation was discussed at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) last year, with Zhao saying that the ACMA played a central part in bringing this discussion to the table.

"The Australian delegations played a very, very important role, sometimes a key role, to push for common positions," he said.

"Australia is always far-looking, and you're preparing yourself very well for the future."

The ACMA also provided an update on the spectrum bands that it is currently monitoring, saying it has added the 4.9GHz band, which, alongside the 3.3GHz band, will be considered for shared access.

"3.3 and 4.9GHz -- so these were added as a result of the [WRC] conference where there was a degree of international interest in harmonisation shown behind them ... The question that we're having to [ask] ourselves is: Is this an opportunity for some innovative sharing-type opportunities?" said the ACMA's Chris Hose.

"There's this approach being investigated around the world called 'licensed shared access', where an incumbent retains their rights in the band and a new entrant works around them using a variety of policy and technology options."

Hose said this is being examined in France presently, and the ACMA will consequently be considering the option. The government agency is planning to speak with interested parties "in the near future".

The ACMA is also monitoring the 600MHz band and the WRC-identified bands; is conducting initial investigations of the 1.5GHz band, which Hose said would be targeted in late September 2016, and the 3.6GHz band, which will be targeted in March 2017; and is currently refarming the 850MHz expansion band; the 900MHz band; and the 1800MHz regional band.

The 1800MHz band was in January successfully auctioned off, with a total of AU$543.5 million spent between the four major telecommunications providers. The high-band spectrum will improve 4G coverage in regional and remote Australia, bringing high-speed broadband to those living outside of the major cities.

The 850MHz band is being expanded for mobile broadband services, while the 900MHz band will be reconfigured.

Chapman also recently told ZDNet that the ACMA is looking towards facilitating the spectrum needs associated with machine-to-machine (M2M) technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), with the ACMA releasing a set of proposed changes to spectrum regulations aimed at providing easier access to spectrum for M2M operators utilising spectrum for the IoT.

In a similar vein, the ITU secretary-general announced on Wednesday that the United Nations will continue supporting the ITU due to the spectrum concerns of burgeoning technology.

"The UN has agreed to support us ... [to] address the new challenges of the information society, including new technology such as the IoT, 5G, cloud computing, and internet-related issues such as cybersecurity," Zhao said.

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