ACMA proposes IoT spectrum access changes

The ACMA has said it wants to encourage technological innovation by making access to radio-frequency spectrum easier for IoT and M2M operators.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a set of proposed changes to spectrum regulations aimed at providing easier access to spectrum for machine-to-machine (M2M) operators utilising spectrum for the Internet of Things (IoT).

Currently, IoT and M2M operators access spectrum under the ACMA's class licensing regime. The ACMA's alterations to the system would eliminate the barrier preventing them from readily accessing narrowband, low-powered networks in the 900MHz, 2.4GHz, and 5.8GHz spectrum bands for applications such as machine data and monitoring, data telemetry, smart metering, security systems, sensor networks, and industrial control.

The changes would be made to the Radiocommunications (Low Potential Interference Devices) Class Licence 2015, which pre-approves usage of the radio-frequency spectrum for certain radio-communications devices that have a low potential to cause interference with other devices.

Included in this list already are garage door openers, Bluetooth devices, anti-theft devices, e-tag systems, wireless microphones, and WLAN devices. Should the ACMA's proposal go through, more IoT devices will be added to the list.

The ACMA is also looking at adding new frequency bands for in-ground ultra-wide bandwidth transmitters used in automated parking management systems; radio-determination transmitters used as industrial sensors; and analysis devices used for detecting objects in walls, ceilings, and floors.

The ACMA also wants to align the usage of the 22.25-123GHz and 244-246GHz spectrum bands for short-range devices with the European system.

According to the ACMA, these changes will improve Australian companies' ability to technologically innovate and thereby stay ahead of the IoT curve.

"The changes should encourage innovations in the M2M and IoT spaces," said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman.

"The proposals are a part of our work in looking at Australia's state of readiness for IoT and identifying areas where the ACMA can further assist IoT developments."

There has been some debate about what networks should form the backbone of the IoT, with the CEO of Australian startup National Narrowband Network (NNN) Rob Zagarella saying in November that the biggest barrier to establishing the IoT is the inherent expense in connecting so many things.

Zagarella said Australia's current mobile networks "aren't necessarily ideal to meet some of these IoT challenges", as they have been set up with high average-revenue-per-user (ARPU) in mind, with significant costs and investments in spectrum.

Instead of cellular networks, narrowband low-power, long-range wide-area networks such as LoRa that use available, unlicensed radio spectrum should be rolled out, he said.

The NNN began trialling its technology on Sydney's North Shore in August across 10 base stations covering 50-100 square kilometres, with the company aiming to roll out its wireless network nationwide. In Australia, the LoRa technology operates across the 918MHz-928MHz spectrum band.

Last month, Telstra likewise announced a trial of LoRaWAN technology in Melbourne with unknown suppliers, scheduled to take place between November 28 and December 3.

"This trial will help inform our view on the role for the technology," a Telstra spokesperson told ZDNet.

"The IoT challenge will help Telstra understand applications that operate within the constraints of a low rate, highly efficient wireless data service of which there are several solutions available."

The ACMA in September updated its five-year outlook on spectrum usage, releasing two reports that outline how the telecommunications sector can deal with the growth in mobile broadband usage and technologies.

The ACMA's Five-year spectrum outlook 2015-19 [PDF] (FYSO) report outlined strategies for how the industry could address the allocation, regulation, and licensing of spectrum within Australia in response to growing demand in the face of new wireless technologies.

The report described the ACMA's processes for making decisions on allocation and licensing, indicating what the ACMA predicts will occur over the next year, and outlined the ACMA's short- and long-term plans, including responding to 5G, M2M, and the rise of the IoT.

"The ACMA engaged the Centre for International Economics to examine the economic benefits of mobile broadband in 2013. It estimated that mobile broadband increased Australia's economic activity (its GDP) by AU$33.8 billion in 2013," the FYSO report said.

"With the continuing emergence of technologies that rely on the use of spectrum for purposes such as machine-to-machine communications, the Internet of Things, and digital communications, demand for spectrum continues to grow. Pressures on spectrum access will continue to be particularly intense in the 300MHz to 3GHz range, which is attractive to many current spectrum uses because of its propagation characteristics."

Meanwhile, Towards 2020: Future spectrum requirements for mobile broadband [PDF] presented the ACMA's mobile broadband spectrum plans.

"For over a decade, the need to accommodate growth in mobile broadband traffic has been the biggest driver of changes in the use of radio-frequency spectrum," Chapman said.

The ACMA said mobile broadband traffic is far outstripping previous predictions, with additional spectrum needing to be allocated, and more flexible and responsive planning necessary for the future.

To deal with the growth in traffic and explosion of new technologies, the ACMA put forward strategies to re-farm and reallocate broadband spectrum.

The ACMA is accepting submissions on its proposed changes to IoT spectrum licensing, including suggestions on which devices to include in the pre-approved usage list, until February 26, 2016.

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