Vodafone, Optus, and Telstra have all welcomed a proposal for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to make it easier to get 1800MHz spectrum in regional Australia for 4G networks, but Vodafone has said that Telstra should be left last to get any of the spectrum in Canberra, Darwin, and Adelaide.
Currently, telcos can get short-term apparatus licences from the ACMA for specific areas where they wish to roll out services in the 1800MHz spectrum band, but the proposal from the ACMA last year for across-the-board, one-year licences would make it easier for the companies to expand their 4G networks without having to acquire specific apparatus licences for the areas where they are upgrading.
The ACMA has proposed that Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone be allocated a portion of the 1800MHz spectrum band in line with where they hold spectrum in metropolitan Australia. Depending on how it is broken up, the telcos would each get either 2x 15MHz or 2x 20MHz of spectrum in remote Australia, and 2x 10MHz or 2x 15MHz in regional Australia.
Mining and energy companies would also get at least 2x 20MHz spectrum allocations across the country, and rail services will get at a minimum 2x 5MHz.
Vodafone's submission to the discussion paper suggested that in Canberra, Darwin, and Adelaide, initially Optus would get 2x20MHz, Vodafone would get 2x 15MHz and there would be 2x 10MHz for infrastructure and 2x 5MHz for rail services.
Telstra would be left out of the first phase, but would eventually get 2x 10MHz under the proposal after reallocation of the spectrum band. Vodafone said it prefers this method, because Telstra already has spectrum for fixed link communications.
"We do not see any merit in providing an assignment priority to Telstra in other regional areas. Across each of the 'mobile' spectrum bands, Telstra is already the dominant holder of spectrum and apparatus licences in regional and remote parts of Australia," Vodafone said.
In the rest of regional and remote Australia, however, Vodafone said each of the three major telcos should be allocated 2x 15MHz slots.
Telstra rejected reusing its existing 1800MHz spectrum that is currently dedicates to fixed links for 4G, because the company said it still needs those fixed links for areas where fibre backhaul cannot be provided.
"Telstra operates approximately 85 percent of the fixed links in the band, and most of these links carry Universal Service Obligation Standard Telephone Service and payphone traffic, along with emergency services calls and other critical telecommunications services, for communities in regional and remote areas," the company said.
"In some cases, it may be possible to transfer this traffic to fibre links or alternative wireless fixed links in higher-frequency bands. However, in many cases, this will not be possible because there are no alternative fibre routes, or because the links traverse obstructed or long, flat paths which cannot easily be migrated to higher-frequency bands. Many of these links also operate over inaccessible terrain or sensitive areas where it would be difficult to build new repeater sites for fixed links in higher-frequency bands."
Optus suggested that the fixed link owners would "game" the licensing, because as fixed links have primary status in the spectrum band, any application for a licence in that band that would overlap the fixed link spectrum would be rejected. Optus said that fixed link allocation should be changed from being regarded as primary to secondary.
Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone agreed that the ACMA has priced the 1800MHz spectrum too high, at AU$0.23 per megahertz per population, and suggested AU$0.15 per megahertz per population would be more appropriate.
The ACMA issued a second discussion paper on the topic last week, calling for comment on how the ACMA should license the spectrum band, proposing a bespoke approach where spectrum allocated to mobile operators is extended out to regional Australia, while the rest continues to be subject to apparatus licensing.