ACMA calls for regional 1800MHz frequency auction

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is calling for industry feedback after releasing the terms of a draft recommendation for the reallocation of 1800MHz radio frequency spectrum long-term licences in regional Australia.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has given stakeholders until March 11 to provide feedback to its draft recommendation for the reallocation of 1800MHz radio frequency spectrum licences in regional Australia.

The ACMA, which is responsible for Australia's radiofrequency bandwidth allocation, on Tuesday released the terms of a draft recommendation that it is proposing to make to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the reallocation of the 1800MHz long-term spectrum licences in regional areas.

The ACMA proposes to recommend to the minister that the frequency ranges 1725MHz to 1785MHz and 1820MHz to 1880MHz in regional Australia be declared for allocation via the issue of spectrum licences.

In its draft recommendation, the ACMA argues that the increasing availability of long-term evolution (LTE) wireless technology such as 4G to deliver mobile services in Australia warrants the auction of the "regional 1800MHz band".

It said that increasing demand for the deployment of 4G communications networks in regional areas is coming from various industry sectors, including telecommunications carriers, mining and energy companies, and railway authorities.

However, only part of the wider 1800MHz band -- from 1710MHz to 1725MHz, and 1805MHz to 1820MHz -- is spectrum licensed in regional Australia.

At present, the regional 1800MHz band is predominantly used for fixed services that are authorised under apparatus licences, said the ACMA.

This includes spectrum in the regional 1800MHz band in the ranges from 1725MHz to 1785MHz, and 1820MHz to 1880MHz.

By comparison, the 1800MHz band spectrum is already heavily licensed in Australia's major metropolitan areas by Australia's telco players such as Telstra and Optus, predominantly for 4G LTE mobile telecommunications.

"Those licensing arrangements in the band are not able to accommodate potential future uses of the band, such as the delivery of mobile services to regional Australia," said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman. "The release of the terms of the draft reallocation recommendation marks the first legislative step in reallocating the regional 1800MHz band for new uses.

Consequently, the ACMA said it has formed the view that existing regulatory arrangements in the band are "not well able to accommodate mobile services".

"Since 2011, an embargo has applied to the 1800MHz band, stating that no further apparatus licences are to be issued in the frequency," said the ACMA. "Therefore, the ACMA proposes to recommend to the minister that he reallocate the 1800MHz band in regional Australia for spectrum licensing."

In the draft recommendation, the ACMA suggests that spectrum licensing is the arrangement that is best able to accommodate emerging high-value uses of the band, such as mobile services.

To this end, it recommends that a simultaneous multi-round auction would be the most appropriate methodology for the allocation of spectrum in the regional 1800MHz band.

"Such a methodology would be administratively efficient and give prospective licensees flexibility in securing spectrum suited to their business plans," it said.

The ACMA proposes to auction lots in 2x 5MHz segments, arguing that the most likely use of the LTE band is optimised for 2x 5MHz channels.

The organisation began consultation in 2012, with stakeholders to identify the appropriate regulatory approaches needed to balance the needs of both existing and prospective licensees in the band.

It said it would consider all comments received on the terms of the draft recommendation before making a final recommendation to the Communications minister.

The closing date for comment is March 11.