Telstra spends AU$72m on mobile broadband spectrum

Telstra has spent AU$72.5 million on mobile broadband spectrum, including more than AU$55 million in Brisbane alone, while NBN, TPG, Vodafone, and Optus also purchased additional spectrum during the auction.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra has spent AU$72.5 million to acquire mobile broadband spectrum during the multi-band residual lots auction, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced.

Vodafone Australia spent the second-highest amount, at AU$7.2 million, followed by Optus, at AU$6.5 million; the National Broadband Network (NBN) company, at AU$4 million; and TPG, at AU$2.3 million.

ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin said there was "good competition" across all bands on offer, with the auction going for 85 rounds between late November and mid-December. The ACMA gained a total of AU$92.6 million as a result.

Telstra specifically spent AU$50 million on 32.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Brisbane B; AU$16 million on 2x 5MHz in the 2GHz band in Adelaide, Brisbane A, Canberra A, Darwin, Hobart, and Perth; AU$4.3 million on 2x 5MHz of the 1800MHz band in Maryborough; AU$2.15 million on 2x 10MHZ in the 2GHz band in Canberra B; AU$27,000 on 4.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Rockhampton and Toowoomba; AU$11,000 on 4.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Canberra A; AU$5,000 on 35GHz in the 2.3GHz band in Kimberley; AU$4,000 on 28MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Central Australia, Gold Fields, and Mid West RQZ; and AU$1,000 on 98MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Telfer Mine.

"The additional spectrum we have secured will mean we can continue to deliver the best experience for our customers and meet the ever-growing demand for data," a Telstra spokesperson said.

"Our investment of AU$72.5 million in this auction, together with more than AU$3.4 billion we have invested over the past 15 years in acquiring our wireless spectrum portfolio, underpins Telstra's ability to support more customers and more traffic on Australia's largest mobile network.

"Some of this spectrum will also support the early evolution of 5G technology beyond the trials we already have planned for 2018."

Vodafone's entire spend was split between AU$4.55 million on 2x 10MHz in the 2GHz band in Hobart; AU$2.45 million on 2x 10MHz in the 2GHz band in Darwin; and AU$235,000 on 2x 5MHz in the 1800MHz band in Regional Western Australia.

Optus procured 3.5MGz in the 3.4GHz band in Adelaide and Sydney B for AU$6.1 million; 7MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Melbourne and New South Wales East for AU$372,000; and 2.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Brisbane B for AU$39,000.

"As Optus continues to evolve into a mobile-led entertainment company, we are focused on the efficient use of our spectrum holdings and ensuring our network capacity is optimised for our customers' future high-speed data demands," Optus Networks MD Dennis Wong said.

"This acquisition of new spectrum assets in the 2300 and 3500MHz bands ensures we are future proofing our network to meet our customers' increasing data demands.

"Optus' spectrum assets in the 3500MHz band ensures we are able to effectively implement and launch 5G services for our customers."

In order to improve its fixed-wireless network, NBN spent AU$2.1 million on 3.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Hobart and Launceston; AU$1.6 million on 35MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Cameron Corner and Geraldton/Kalgoorlie; and AU$326,000 on 98MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Delamere.

TPG, which is currently building out a AU$1.9 billion mobile network, paid AU$1.36 million for 2x 10MGz in the 1800MHz band in Mackay and AU$970,000 for 2x 5MHz in the 1800MHz band.

According to the ACMA, there were seven lots that were not auctioned off, as only one applicant was interested in them. As such, they will be offered to the applicant at their starting price. These include 1800MHz spectrum in Dubbo; 2.3GHz spectrum in outer ACT; and 3.4GHz spectrum in Hobart, Launceston, Rockhampton, and Toowoomba.

The ACMA's previous spectrum auction in the 700MHz band earlier this year saw Vodafone pay AU$285.9 million for 2x 5MHz of spectrum and 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, at AU$68 million.

As part of the government's 5G strategy announced in October, the ACMA is slated to bring the 3.6GHz spectrum band -- which it has been investigating for 5G use -- to auction in 2018.

However, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims last month argued that spectrum allocations should move away from auctions in separate bands to a more holistic holdings approach if the most value is to be given to consumers.

"Our past approach to competition limits has been quite simple; we sought to prevent dominance of spectrum by any one licensee in particular bands. We are rethinking this approach," Sims said in November.

"The upcoming 3.6GHz allocation is a fascinating case study of why this approach is becoming increasingly fraught. Instead, and this is a key point, we want to consider spectrum holdings holistically rather than in particular bands.

"When governments downplay competition to sell monopoly assets for the highest price, the economy loses out."

Sims' comments also followed the ACMA announcing its 5G spectrum plan in its Five-Year Spectrum Outlook [PDF] (FYSO) and its Draft spectrum reallocation recommendation for the 3.6GHz bandpaper.

The paper suggested parallel but staggered, separate auctions across the 3.6GHz, millimetre-wave (mmWave), 900MHz, 850MHz, and 1.5GHz spectrum bands over the next three years.

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