Australia announces 5G strategy

Immediate actions under the Australian government's 5G directions paper include actively contributing to international standardisation efforts, making spectrum available, and modernising telco regulations.

Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has announced that the federal government has developed a paper outlining a 5G policy for Australia, including the establishment of a working group to collaborate with industry.

The 5G: Enabling the future economy paper [PDF] lists its immediate actions on 5G as making spectrum available in a timely manner; actively taking part in the international standardisation process; "streamlining arrangements" to enable telcos to deploy infrastructure in a more time- and cost-efficient manner; and reviewing telco regulations to ensure they are fit for purpose for 5G.

"Efficient rollout of 5G and uptake of the services it supports has the potential to produce far-reaching economic and social benefits and support growth of Australia's digital economy," the paper says.

"The communications sector will lead the rollout of 5G networks in Australia. However, the government can create the policy and regulatory environment to support a more efficient rollout, given its potential benefits to the economy."

A new spectrum management framework will be in place by 2019, the paper says, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will bring the 3.6GHz spectrum band -- which it has been investigating for 5G use -- to auction in 2018.

The government will then "ensure strong participation" by Australia in international discussions on spectrum harmonisation, the paper says.

Enabling a faster deployment of infrastructure by telcos will involve the government implementing a tranche of changes to carrier powers and immunities following consultation with industry.

"5G is expected to require additional infrastructure in new forms, including smaller cells and more densely located antennas, particularly in the use of high-band spectrum. Carriers have specific powers and immunities relating to telecommunications infrastructure deployment and installation ... [which] have existed in their current form since 1997," the paper explains.

"The government has recently consulted on proposed new arrangements that take account of technology developments and changes in operating practices, as well as identifying opportunities to streamline deployment processes. Under these new proposed arrangements, mobile carriers would be able to roll out new communications technologies such as 5G more efficiently."

The government is lastly working to "modernise" telco regulatory arrangements, as well as assessing security issues.

"In undertaking reform, the government is cognisant that the communications regulatory framework will need to be sufficiently flexible to address the emergence of new technologies and business models," the paper says.

"Cybersecurity will be a critical consideration as 5G is deployed ... [and] user consent will be an area of growing complexity due to the intersection between autonomous systems and the individual.

"Industry has strong incentives to address cybersecurity risks in 5G's new types of network deployments and systems. However, the government will continue to assess cybersecurity and privacy issues as they evolve to ensure Australians have confidence in using 5G."

The government has also noted in the directions paper that it will continue working through other issues through its 5G working group.

"The government recognises that as 5G continues to develop, other issues relating to the technology will likely emerge which may require future government action. In particular, while there are opportunities for 5G to create economy-wide transformation, this will require a broader examination of sectoral regulatory frameworks," the paper says.

"To that end, the government will work collaboratively with industry to foster an ongoing dialogue on 5G beyond the launch of this paper to identify and remove sectoral barriers to its successful and timely rollout.

"The working group will create a platform for this strategic dialogue with a mandate to seek out opportunities and emerging issues on 5G. This will provide better coverage across government of the evolving policy and regulatory challenges associated with 5G."

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus -- who was responsible for setting up Australia's industry 5G Group -- welcomed Fifield's announcement, saying it is imperative for the government to support the 5G rollout through regulatory and policy settings.

"5G will be a core element of increasing connectivity that will enable innovations such as the Internet of Things, enhanced mobile broadband, massive and critical machine communications -- all essential to a successful digital economy and networked society," Althaus said.

"AMTA supports the government's objective to 'create an environment that allows Australia's telecommunications industry to be at the forefront of seizing the benefits of 5G across our economy'."

The announcement followed Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday congratulating the British government for formulating a 5G strategy, saying this would likely ensure the United Kingdom is a world leader in the digital economy.

"The UK government announced a 5G strategy, stating that 'as part of their modern industrial strategy, the UK must be a global leader in the next generation of mobile technologies and digital communications' and that 'the government's job is to create the environment for this to happen'," Rowland said.

"I commend this attitude -- this disposition. By setting itself an ambitious goal, the UK may well take early advantage of the potential of 5G and create a world-leading digital economy.

"I ask you to compare: How do we set up Australia to leverage our clear strengths in the mobile arena? What is the attitude, the vision, of our government?"

Prior to the publication of the directions paper on Thursday, the only arm of the government engaged in 5G was the ACMA, which last month announced that it is proposing to accelerate the decision-making process on whether to use millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum after hearing of the "urgency" around setting aside 5G spectrum.

Specifically, the ACMA is looking to "streamline" the early consideration of the 26GHz band, which includes 24.25-27.5GHz spectrum, as well as "potentially other mmWave bands", after Telstra argued that early access to 5G spectrum by next year is "absolutely critical" for Australia to remain a mobile leader as it has been for 3G and 4G.

The nation's telcos have also been continuing to trial 5G technology, with Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone working on trials with Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and Intel to show the speeds and latency that various specific consumer and business applications could attain.

"We spend a lot of time obviously on 5G; we've got a whole program of work," Telstra CEO Andy Penn told ZDNet last month.

"We were the first to roll out serious 5G trials, and then we've got an in-market live trial on the Gold Coast next year."

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