ACMA opens consultation on 5G spectrum auction

The ACMA is seeking feedback on its upcoming 5G spectrum auction in Australia.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released detail on how it will auction off the 3.6GHz spectrum this year to mobile telecommunications providers, which will use the band to launch 5G services.

Feedback is being sought by the government agency, with consultation closing on June 15.

"The ACMA is consulting on the details of the spectrum licences to be offered in the 3.6GHz band, the draft rules of the auction, and the technical framework that will underpin the new licences," ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin said on Friday.

"We are making spectrum available as early as possible so that all Australians can benefit from these new technologies. But we recognise the 3.6GHz auction will require incumbent operators in the band to make some changes."

The ACMA is proposing to auction the 3.6GHz spectrum off online using an Enhanced Simultaneous Multi-Round Ascending auction format, with an application fee of AU$10,000.

It is looking to auction off the spectrum in 25 x5MHz generic lots across 15 spectrum products -- one product per region and two products in Perth -- or alternatively 1x 15MHz in the lower band of 3575-3590MHz and 22x 5MHz in the upper band of 3590-3700MHz across 29 spectrum products -- two products per region and three products in Perth.

Options for the Perth lots include 25x 5MHz lots; 16x 5MHz lots in the lower band and 1x 45MHz lot in the higher band; or 16x 5MHz lots in the lower band and 9x 5MHz lots in the higher band. According to the ACMA, a majority of the industry has expressed a preference for the third option, while a minority prefers the first.

On its Draft allocation instruments for 3.6GHz band (3575-3700MHz) metropolitan and regional lots auction: Consultation paper, the ACMA is seeking feedback on whether the 3.6GHz spectrum licences should commence as soon as possible after being auctioned off, or whether they should commence at the end of the two-year allocation period for metro areas; and whether it should amend the Tax Determination to include an annual licence tax rate of AU$0.0039/MHz/pop for the 3.6GHz band.

It is also seeking stakeholder views on its proposed auction rules; draft marketing plan with special regards to geographic lot configurations and multiple lot categories in Perth; and the proposal determine tax amounts for 3.6GHz spectrum licences based on total spectrum of 125MHz at a base amount of AU$69,180.

For its 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz band spectrum licence technical framework: Consultation paper, the ACMA is consulting on the 3.4GHz draft spectrum licences; its updated coexistence arrangements for earth stations; its updated guidelines for coexistence with apparatus-licensed Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) services; suggested details for temporary synchronisation configurations; employing stricter unwanted emission limits in the 3100-3380MHz range; arrangements for unacceptable interference levels in the 3.4GHz band; suggested ways of improving device boundary criteria for paths over water; its guidelines for managing interference from spectrum licensed transmitters; whether 3.4GHz band licensees will agree to share the 20MHz guard band equally, or need alternative limits; the definition of minimum contiguous bandwidth of 10MHz for the 3.6GHz band; and the removal of the minimum contiguous bandwidth for the 27GHz band.

The ACMA is also seeking comment on introducing planning arrangements for frequency coordination and licensing of point-to-multipoint systems in the 5.6GHz band to support the transition of incumbent 3.6GHz users to the higher band, and so "protect existing BoM [Bureau of Meteorology] radar services and make provision for additional radar services in future", the ACMA chair said.

"We will be working closely with wireless internet service providers, satellite operators, and the Bureau of Meteorology up to and well beyond the auction process to address their concerns," O'Loughlin added.

Her comments followed BoM earlier this week saying moving wireless providers to the 5.6GHz band could impact weather satellites across most of the nation.

"The Bureau of Meteorology is concerned the reallocation of Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to the 5.6GHz band could interfere with existing radars and constrain future expansion and reconfiguration of its radar network," BoM said in response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice.

The 5.6GHz spectrum is currently used for BOM's 47 C-Band weather radars.

Potentially affected C-Band weather radar locations shown on BOM's map include Sydney (Kurnell), Melbourne Airport, Melbourne (Laverton), Adelaide (Sellicks Hill), Perth Airport, Perth (Serpentine), Hobart Airport, Hobart (Mt Koonya), Cairns, Townsville (Hervey Range), Wagga Wagga, Kalgoorlie, Mildura, Geraldton, NW Tasmania (West Takone), Yarrawonga, Broadmeadows, Mt Gambier, Moree, Woomera, Ceduna, Bairnsdale, Warrego, Longreach, Mackay, Bowen, Weipa, Albany, Esperance, Newdegate, South Doodlakine, and Watheroo.

The ACMA had released its five-year plan for spectrum allocation in October alongside "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.

In March, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield then announced that current services in the 3.6GHz band will have up to seven years to vacate in regional areas, and only two years in most capital cities.

"I have carefully considered the implications for regional Australians in making this decision, and the declaration provides protections for incumbent users in the band while ensuring Australia is well-positioned to take advantage of 5G technology in years to come," Fifield said at the time.

"The ACMA's recommendation provides for an unprecedented seven-year reallocation period in regional Australia. This will allow incumbents, such as regional fixed-wireless broadband operators, to continue to deliver services until the middle of next decade -- and this could continue beyond the reallocation period if agreed with a new spectrum licence holder."

This followed the release of the federal government's 5G policy paper, which said the ACMA would bring the 3.6GHz spectrum band for 5G use to auction in 2018, followed by millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum in 2019.

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