Australian wireless broadband providers shifted to make room for 5G

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announces auction process for 3.6GHz band.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Services in the 3.6GHz band will have up to seven years to vacate in regional areas, and only two in most of the nation's capital cities, under spectrum arrangements announced by the government on Thursday.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield issued declarations for the services to move as part of beginning an auction process for 125MHz of the 3.6GHz spectrum favoured for use by upcoming 5G services.

"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 in a statement.

"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."

The band in question is currently used by wireless broadband providers, satellite communuication stations, and point-to-point links. The government added that ACMA has put forward an idea of working with those impacted by the shift to create "site-based, coordinated licensing arrangements", and licences for other bands.

Services already using the 3.6GHz band will have two years to move in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, and Adelaide; five years in Perth, to cater for satellite users in the area; and seven years elsewhere.

Last year, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said the highest value use of the band would be for fixed and mobile broadband, which predictably drew the ire of incumbent users.

Bob Horton of the Communications Alliance Satellite Services Working Group accused the ACMA at the time of being "currently mesmerised by a mobile broadband strategy" and being on an "unexpected, high-risk path".

At the same time, Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd said multiple standards bodies worldwide were confirming that the 3.6GHz band will be used for 5G.

"3.6[GHz] is really what we call the sweet spot, where the coverage is good enough, it's a low enough band, where there's potentially enough spectrum available for these exponentially larger needs, and where the vendors are already driving for the deployment of the key technologies beamforming and MIMO," Lloyd said.

"For us to realise all of the potential of 5G technology, we think we're going to need the 3.6GHz band, we're going to need it configured as TDD, and we're going to need much larger quantities of spectrum than we've traditionally operated on."

In its plan put forward in October, the ACMA proposed to auctioning off the 3.6GHz band in the second quarter of this year, followed by auctions of 850/900MHz, 26GHz, and 1.5GHz bands in 2019.

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