5G mmWave spectrum push for Australia: ACMA

The ACMA has announced that it is considering advancing the consideration of mmWave spectrum bands for 5G in order to keep pace with international standards, with an options paper due by March 2018.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced a proposal to accelerate the decision on whether to use millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G mobile services.

As part of the process, the ACMA released a consultation paper on mmWave spectrum on Monday, noting that international standards and harmonisation are "progressing rapidly", with the bands possibly to be in use before 2020.

"Australia has a strong track record of timely review of spectrum arrangements in support of innovation in the communications industry," acting ACMA Chairman Richard Bean said.

"5G in the millimetre-wave bands presents a great opportunity to maintain this record so the Australian community will continue to enjoy the benefits of early uptake of new technology."

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".

The ACMA is seeking submissions from industry on a series of questions pertinent to the use of mmWave bands for 5G, including whether it should wait to seriously consider it domestically until there are "clear signs of a harmonised, widespread ecosystem" or whether a more "proactive" approach would be better suited.

The ACMA also wants to hear feedback on when it should move beyond monitoring 5G mmWave bands; which mmWave bands are the most mature for early moves on 5G; the priority of mmWave bands versus bands below 6GHz; whether the 26GHz band should be accelerated from initial investigation to preliminary replanning for 5G; whether any other mmWave bands should be accelerated in the same way; and what mmWave bands should be considered.

Lastly, the ACMA wants submissions addressing the issues that would impact the timeframe that mmWave bands could be made available for mobile broadband; whether the 24.25-27GHz or 24.25-27.5GHz bands should be made available for mobile broadband; what geographical areas should be made available for mmWave mobile broadband; and what regulatory changes would be required to support satellite services in the switch to 5G.

The ACMA is accepting submissions until October 13, which it said will help make a decision on whether to progress consideration of mmWave bands to the preliminary replanning phase.

"Unless there are significant reasons raised to the contrary, the ACMA will use the information garnered from this process and develop an options paper for release in the first quarter of 2018," the ACMA added.

The ACMA had last week held a Spectrum tune-up: Spectrum for 5G broadband in mmWave bands event, hearing from the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) that there is "urgency" around setting aside 5G spectrum.

AMTA CEO Chris Althaus -- who was responsible for setting up Australia's industry 5G Group -- said the nation must keep pace internationally by having its regulatory settings match the technology evolution.

"We see a lot of aspects already standardised in 2018, pre-standard activities are under way, and there's an urgency around this whole equation," Althaus said during the event last week.

"We're getting a lot of interest by end users and customers outside the sector; we need to be in a position as a nation to take early advantage of this.

"We are already a leading global nation in mobile terms, and there is some enormous productivity and competitiveness implications if we take this journey in a planned way, but a very deliberate way, to keep up."

AMTA engineer Juan Pablo Casetta said the regulatory development could be helped along by the Australian government through both domestic and international processes.

"AMTA wants to see the progression to the initial investigation stage now; obviously, we can't wait until WRC [World Radio Conference] '19, because by that stage ... the technology will likely be ready," he argued, saying that the government would then be rushing to allocate spectrum.

"This needs to progress now."

However, SES Satellites expressed "dismay" at some of the mmWave bands being considered, as many of the current high-throughput satellites make use of mmWave spectrum -- including the two National Broadband Network (NBN) satellites, which utilise the ka-band on 28GHz spectrum.

Instead of looking into the 28GHz band, in which satellite is "very heavily deployed" and is being avoided by the international community, or into the 37-52GHz band, for which nothing is yet deployed but some satellite companies have announced plans to launch in future, Daniel Mah, senior legal and regulatory counsel for SES Satellites, said the ACMA should consider 26GHz, 32GHz, 66GHz, and 81GHz.

The World Radio Conference (WRC) is currently studying the 24.25-27.5GHz, 31.8-33.4GHz, 37-40.5GHz, 40.5-42.5GHz, 42.5-43.5GHz, 45.5-47GHz, 47-47.2GHz, 47.2-50.2GHz, 50.4-52.6GHz, 66-76GHz, and 81-86GHz bands under its 2019 conference agenda.

The US, meanwhile, is looking into the 24.25-24.45GHz, 24.75-25.25GHz, 27.5-28.35GHz, 31.8-33.4GHz, 37-40GHz 42-42.5GHz, 47.2-50.2GHz, 50.4-52.6GHz, 64-71GHz, 71-76GHz, and 81-86GHz bands, as well as bands above 95GHz; Korea is looking at 24.25-29.5GHz, 31.8-33.4GHz, and 37-40.5GHz; Japan is looking at 26.5-29.5GHz; the EU is looking at 24.25-27.5GHz and 40.5-43.5GHz; and China is looking towards 24.25-27.5GHz and 37-43.5GHz.

According to Mah, satellite's potential role in 5G deployments also means it should not be shifted off the mmWave bands, because it can "play a role in helping mobile networks achieve latency of sub-1 millisecond" via satellite-utilising small cells for densification.

"These frequency bands are very important to us," Mah added.

"It's not enough to just think of us as an incumbent that needs to be accommodated somewhere, or relocated somewhere, but to think actively and hard about how we fit and how we play a role in the 5G future."

Telcos are already looking to use mmWave spectrum for 5G, with Telstra in February announcing a series of 5G new radio (NR) trials across Australia with Ericsson and Qualcomm.

The trials will have them make use of mmWave spectrum technologies at higher-frequency bands to increase network capacity and allow for multi-gigabit speeds, as well as Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antenna technology along with beam forming and beam tracking.

Ericsson and IBM earlier this year also announced a "research breakthrough" in 5G network technology, saying a new silicon-based mmWave phased array integrated circuit could accelerate 5G uptake.

According to Ericsson and IBM, mmWave bands -- portions of the electromagnetic spectrum -- allow for speeds that are more than 10 times faster than the frequencies used currently for mobile devices.

Also working on 5G mmWave products and solutions under the assumption that they will be deployed globally are Intel, Samsung, Huawei, Qualcomm, ZTE, and Nokia.

The ACMA had said it was considering the use of mmWave bands for 5G when it released its five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO) and 12-month work plan in October 2016.

The ACMA is also looking into use of the 3.6GHz spectrum band for 5G, in July hosting a tune-up event where mobile carriers Telstra and Vodafone Australia found themselves at odds with incumbent users including satellite operators and wireless ISPs.

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