ACMA to auction off mobile spectrum

The ACMA has announced that it will be selling 39 lots of spectrum across the 1800MHz, 2GHz, 2.3GHz, and 3.4GHz bands in November, with starting prices ranging between AU$1,000 and AU$5.7 million.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The areas of Australia covered by the 3.4GHz spectrum up for auction

(Image: ACMA)

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced a multiband residual lots auction in late November to sell off spectrum across the 1800MHz, 2GHz, 2.3GHz, and 3.4GHz bands providing mobile broadband coverage to approximately 38.5 million people in both metro and regional areas.

According to the Multiband residual lots auction, November 2017: Auction guide [PDF] published on Friday afternoon, it is selling 39 lots of spectrum in total, with the ACMA saying the technical frameworks have been optimised for the current use cases of mobile and fixed-wireless services while also allowing for technological flexibility to support additional uses.

"The spectrum licence technical frameworks for the four bands were developed by the ACMA in consultation with industry," the ACMA said.

"The 1800MHz band and 2GHz band technical frameworks have been optimised to support frequency division duplex (FDD) mobile broadband services, while the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz band technical frameworks have been optimised to support time division duplex (TDD) mobile broadband services.

"However, this does not explicitly exclude use of the licences in any of the bands for other uses. The frameworks are flexible enough to allow operators to deploy a variety of different services."

The ACMA will run three sequential auctions due to the high number of lots being sold, with stage one selling off all 1800MHz lots and three of the 2x 10MHz lots on offer from the 2GHz band; stage two selling the six 2x 5MHz lots in the 2GHz band; and stage three auctioning off all lots in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands.

Across the 1800MHz spectrum band, the ACMA is auctioning off 2x 5MHz in Dubbo for a starting price of AU$252,000; 2x 10MHz in Mackay starting at AU$1.12 million; 2x 5MHz in Maryborough starting at AU$4.301 million; 2x 5MHz in Regional Western Australia starting at AU$235,000; and 2x 5MHz in Tasmania starting at AU$410,000.

In the 2GHz band, the ACMA is selling 2x 10MHz in Canberra B, which excludes the area encompassing the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), starting at AU$2.147 million; 2x 10MHz in Darwin starting at AU$630,000; 2x 10MHz in Hobart, starting at AU$1.181 million; 2x 5MHz in Adelaide starting at AU$2.346 million; 2x 5MHz in Brisbane A starting at AU$5.742 million; 2x 5MHz in Canberra A, which includes the CDSCC, starting at AU$805,000; 2x 5MHz in Darwin starting at AU$236,000; 2x 5MHz in Hobart starting at AU$443,000; and 2x 5MHz in Perth starting at AU$3.045 million.

In the 2.3GHz band, the ACMA is auctioning off 35MHz in Cameron Corner starting at AU$12,000; 28MHz in Central Australia starting at AU$2,000; 98MHz in Delamere starting at AU$17,000; 35MHz in Geraldton/Kalgoorlie starting at AU$19,000; 28MHz in Gold Fields starting at AU$1,000; 35MHz in Kimberley starting at AU$5,000; 7MHz in Melbourne starting at AU$173,000; 28MHz in Mid West Radio Quiet Zone starting at AU$1,000; 7MHz in NSW east starting at AU$199,000; 28MHz in outer ACT starting at AU$1,000; and 98MHz in Telfer Mine starting at AU$1,000.

Lastly, the spectrum being sold across the 3.4GHz band consists of lots of 3.5MHz in Adelaide starting at AU$25,000; 2.5MHz and 32.5MHz in Brisbane B starting at AU$39,000 and AU$1.005 million, respectively; 2.5MHz and 4.5MHz in Canberra A starting at AU$6,000 and AU$11,000; 3.5MHz and 3.5MHz in Hobart, both starting at AU$5,000; 3.5MHz and 3.5MHz in Launceston, both starting at AU$2,000; 2.5MHz and 4.5MHz in Rockhampton starting at AU$3,000; 3.5MHz in Sydney B starting at AU$106,000; and 2.5MHz and 4.5MHz in Toowoomba starting at AU$3,000 and AU$5,000, respectively.

Allocation limits are set for the 1800MHz band, with no carrier permitted to obtain more than 25MHz in the 1725MHz to 1785MHz band or the 1820MHz to 1880MHz band.

The multiband residual lots auction will be conducted online using a sequential simple clock allocation (SCA) format that allows for ascending bids, using auction system software developed specifically for the ACMA by Power Auctions.

"The ACMA will endeavour to provide emergency backup bidding procedures, and communication arrangements will be in place in the event that technical or other problems prevent use of the auction system for a period," the ACMA added.

"The auction system internet site will use secure sockets layer (SSL) technology to ensure all transmissions are secure. The auction system will employ two-factor authentication, using time-based one-time password algorithm (TOTP).

"To access the auction system, in addition to entering their username and password, users will need to enter a validation code generated using a smartphone app and the TOTP algorithm."

The deadline for applications and non-refundable application fees of AU$10,000 is October 27, with a mock auction to test the system and processes expected to take place in November ahead of the auction, which should commence on November 28.

The ACMA's most recent spectrum auction in the 700MHz band saw Vodafone Australia pay AU$285.9 million for 2x 5MHz of spectrum and new mobile entrant TPG pay AU$1.26 billion for 2x 10MHz.

This followed the 1800MHz spectrum auction at the beginning of 2016, in which Optus spent AU$196 million, followed by Telstra, at AU$191 million; TPG, at AU$88 million; and Vodafone Australia, at AU$68 million.

The ACMA is also currently looking into the allocation and auction of spectrum across the 3.6GHz and millimetre-wave (mmWave) bands, last month announcing that it is proposing to accelerate the decision-making process on whether to use the latter for 5G mobile services after hearing arguments that there is "urgency" around setting aside 5G spectrum.

The ACMA released a consultation paper on mmWave spectrum in September, noting that international standards and harmonisation are "progressing rapidly", with the bands to possibly 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", and is accepting submissions until October 13.

The ACMA's July hearings on using 3.6GHz spectrum band for 5G after publishing its 3.6GHz consultation package found mobile carriers Telstra and Vodafone Australia at odds with incumbent users including satellite operators and wireless ISPs

Telstra argued that early access to 3.6GHz spectrum by next year is "absolutely critical" for Australia to remain a mobile leader as it has been for 3G and 4G.

Vodafone added that operators will need up to 100MHz of such spectrum, but, as there is presently only 125MHz of the 3.6GHz band available, it would have to be reallocated from its current users.

Incumbent users of the 3.6GHz band argued that the spectrum should not be taken away from them and given to mobile telcos, and instead promoted spectrum sharing.

"Our preference is for just allowing the 5G at the present time into the metropolitan areas and leaving the regional ISPs alone, because we think we have prospects as well in the 5G space if all the promise that's out there about what it can do is true," the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association of Australia said at the time.

The ACMA had said it was considering the use of mmWave and 3.6GHz bands for 5G when it released its five-year spectrum outlook and 12-month work plan in October 2016.

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