Unwired wary of big carriers in broadband spectrum sale

Unwired wary of major carriers in broadband spectrum sale

Unwired's chief executive officer, David Spence, has urged Australia's communications regulators to protect a tranche of prime wireless broadband spectrum due to be auctioned September from anti-competitive behaviour by existing carriers.

Spence said that the government needed to continue imposing competition directions on auctions of wireless broadband spectrum to ensure that new entrants to the market are able to access it.

The auction will see the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) create licences to operate metropolitan and regional radio spectrum in the 2.010-2.025 GHz range. The regulator also plans to make spectrum available in the 1.9-1.92 GHz range in regional areas on an "over the counter" basis.

While the ACA says the September auctions aren't the final chance to become a player in the wireless broadband market, it has described the radio-frequencies up for grabs as the last "beach front" spectrum it intends to make available for some time.

"I think what we've said publicly is that as more spectrum becomes available, the process for getting access to it should apply so that it's a level playing field for everyone involved," said Spence.

"The fact that the government was keen to create competition in the local loop by letting others except Telstra bid in 2000 allowed companies such as ours to come to fruition," he later added.

Former Federal ICT minister Richard Alston excluded Telstra from the previous auctions as it was considered a prerequisite for the success of wireless broadband services such as Personal Broadband Australia and Unwired.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) today said it was up to the newly appointed ICT Minister, Helen Coonan, to decide whether to continue to impose restrictions on the auctions.

However, Coonan -- who officially launched Unwired last week -- is still waiting on advice from the ACA and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) before deciding on the matter.

ACA spectrum markets group executive manager, Tom Motherwell, said that capping the amount of spectrum allocated to operators and excluding existing carriers from the auction were two options currently available to the federal government.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts yesterday said that it would be premature for the minister to comment on the situation.

Some analysts fear that smaller players wishing to enter the market will face significant difficulties providing cost effective services for consumers if Telstra is allowed to participate in the auctions.

"At the end of the day service providers may have to spend all their money on getting spectrum access and have nothing left to start up the service," said IDC analyst Warren Chaisatien. "Then these costs may be passed on to consumers."

Unwired's Spence is concerned that carriers will simply buy up the spectrum to lock new entrants out of the wireless market.

"[The major carriers] shouldn't be allowed to buy spectrum and hoard it; just sit on it" he said.

Spence said Unwired was prepared to look at helping wireless services get off the ground in rural and regional areas through technology franchise arrangements with local operators.

"We've also and we're also not against ways of utilising the spectrum that we won in areas, by licensing it or franchising it with our technology in certain areas around Australia," said Spence.

The ACA's Motherwell said that the regulator had no powers to make carriers hand back spectrum once they'd licensed it out.