ACMA to review commercial space operations spectrum

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will review space licensing procedures and regulatory arrangements for small satellites and CubeSats this financial year.

A surge in commercial space operations has lowered the costs of satellite construction and launch, with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to therefore re-examine its space spectrum arrangements, chair Nerida O'Loughlin has said.

Opening the ACMA's RadComms 2018 conference in Sydney on Tuesday, O'Loughlin said the developments in the "new space industry" are central to the federal government agency's goals as the nation's spectrum planner and regulator, as they will benefit the Australian economy and community.

"The new innovations in space will challenge our domestic and international regulatory arrangements, which were designed in an era of few participants, high costs, and very long lead times," O'Loughlin said.

"That's why we've set ourselves a task this year of reviewing our space licensing procedures, as well as starting a discussion on our regulatory arrangements for small satellites and CubeSats."

O'Loughlin said that in order to better inform and assist innovation and growth across the nation's space industry, the ACMA will need to "develop specific information on the spectrum management targeted at small organisations".

"There's also a need for more streamlined ways for such organisations to access spectrum both for trial and demonstration purposes and provide possible pathways to commercialisation," she said, noting that the agency should also identify the obstacles to innovation and commercialisation.

Also speaking on 5G spectrum, O'Loughlin said the upcoming 3.6GHz auction shows Australia is "now at the forefront of international developments in relation to 5G".

The ACMA is now also "actively considering options to make millimetre-wave spectrum available for fixed and mobile wireless broadband services" in the 26-28GHz bands, the chair revealed.

"The unique properties of millimetre wave, particularly its very short propagation distances and low ability to penetrate barriers, call into question our traditional heavy reliance on wide-area spectrum licences," O'Loughlin explained.

"It invites us to consider a range of licensing approaches that take account of multiple use cases, and I look forward to considering different industry views on the novel challenges presented.

"We certainly hope to have a final set of options for 26-gig ... but there have been delays in the results of European studies ... how those studies can be applied to Australian circumstances.

"No one should doubt how very high priority ACMA has given this work."

The ACMA has kicked off a high-level review of the uses of 28GHz, O'Loughlin said, including greater sharing between multiple use cases such as point-to-multipoint services. While she noted that 28GHz is likely to be shared, no decisions on the band will take place without a further round of consultation.

The ACMA had finalised the arrangements for the 3.6GHz 5G spectrum auction back in August, saying it will be held in late November with allocation limits of 60MHz in metro areas and 80MHz in regional areas.

The agency will auction off 125MHz of spectrum in the 3.6GHz band in total -- 350 lots across 14 regions of Australia.

The non-refundable application fee to take part in the auction has been set at AU$10,000, with the metro spectrum reserve price to be AU$0.08 per MHz per population excluding Perth lower lots and AU$0.053/MHz/pop for Perth lower lots.

The regional spectrum will start at AU$0.03/MHz/pop, with all lots to be auctioned off in an enhanced simultaneous multi-round ascending format using software developed by Power Auctions.

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