ACMA announces 5G spectrum plan

The ACMA has revealed its suggested plans for 5G spectrum allocation, with the 3.6GHz band to likely go up for auction in Q2 2018 and the mmWave band in Q1 2019.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor
(Image: ACMA)

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released its five-year plan for spectrum allocation, including when and how it could proceed with providing both 5G bands for mobile carriers.

Following the release of the federal government's 5G policy paper earlier this month, which said the ACMA would bring the 3.6GHz spectrum band for 5G use to auction in 2018, the ACMA has now provided further details on this, as well as on the provision of millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G.

If the ACMA decides to accelerate its consideration process of mmWave spectrum between 24.25GHz and 27.5GHz, it said it could identify bands in early 2018, with a planning decision expected in mid-2018.

All three of the ACMA's suggested timelines for spectrum allocation then involved auctioning off 3.6GHz spectrum in Q2 2018 and mmWave in Q1 2019, although it noted that mmWave may be allocated under new legislation.

It is seeking feedback on these suggested timeframes.

"There are already predictions that 5G will catalyse a fourth industrial revolution, enabling significant advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) with applications like remote control of industrial, agricultural, and medical processes, along with real-time machine-to-machine interactions to support automated vehicles and smart cities," the Five-Year Spectrum Outlook 2017-21: The ACMA's spectrum management work program [PDF] (FYSO) says.

"Innovations such as these, as well as developments in satellite communications, other mobile telecommunications, and land mobile mean spectrum needs to be planned, made available, and managed more efficiently, to enable new communications services, while continuing to support existing spectrum uses."

The ACMA also released its Draft spectrum reallocation recommendation for the 3.6GHz band: Metropolitan and regional areas of Australia paper, saying it is consulting with stakeholders before making a recommendation to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

"The ACMA acknowledges the importance and immediacy of 5G spectrum matters, and is committed to ensuring that Australia is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by 5G," the 3.6GHz paper says.

After first releasing a discussion paper on the possibility of refarming the 3.6GHz spectrum band for enabling 5G mobile broadband a year ago, the ACMA is now suggesting a licence term of 12 years, with the spectrum to be allocated via an enhanced simultaneous multi-round ascending auction in 25 lots of 5MHz.

The ACMA has proposed a reallocation period for licences across the 2575-3700MHz spectrum band of two years for Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Canberra metro areas; five years in the Perth metro area; and seven years in regional areas. A reallocation deadline of 12 months prior to the end of that first two-year period would then see existing licence holders have their licences cancelled, the ACMA said.

However, it also announced in its FYSO "a range of mitigation measures" for incumbent users in the 3.6GHz band, including "a commitment to developing arrangements for site-based wireless broadband services in the 5.6GHz" band, support for ongoing access to spectrum, and identifying earth station protection zones on Australia's east coast. This followed arguments from incumbent wireless ISPs and satellite groups that the spectrum should not be taken away from them and given to mobile telcos.

The ACMA said it is additionally looking to design regulatory arrangements for industry-initiated licence trading; greater use of spectrum sharing; and spectrum pricing to reflect market value.

Submissions from interested parties on the 3.6GHz paper are due on November 27, while consultation on the FYSO closes on December 18, 2017.

Other spectrum bands currently being considered for refarming in the FYSO include the auction announced last week for residual lots in the 1800MHz, 2GHz, 2.3GHz, and 3.4GHz bands; the former 2G band in the 900MHz band, which could be used for low-power IoT applicatons; the 850MHz band; and the 1.5GHz band.

The ACMA has suggested running parallel but staggered auctions across all of these spectrum bands over the next three years.

Also published by the ACMA was its paper on Reconfiguring the 890-915/935-960 MHz band: Way forward, with the regulator finding that clearing the band and reallocating the spectrum is "the most efficient and effective" process.

The 900MHz band will likewise be reconfigured in 5MHz lots, with consultation on this issue closing on December 1.

The ACMA said it is currently developing a work program to be updated annually, in response to the Radiocommunications Bill 2017 unveiled earlier this year, pointing towards issues including as 5G and IoT as needing to be addressed regularly.

The ACMA is also currently undergoing a modernisation of its functions, with the Department of Communications this year recommending that its cybersecurity functions be handed over to the Attorney-General's Department (AGD).

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