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Spectrum sharing key to IoT, 5G: ACMA

Dynamic spectrum access and sharing will help the ACMA manage and plan for IoT and 5G, along with industry cooperation and the government's spectrum review.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The two biggest opportunities for spectrum management leading up to 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) are spectrum sharing and the current review being undertaken by the government, according to Christopher Hose, executive manager of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Spectrum Planning Branch.

"There are two very big and important opportunities: The first is technology and what it might mean for sharing into the future," Hose said, speaking at the ACMA's Spectrum Tune-Up event on Monday morning.

"Sharing is very much at the heart of what we do in spectrum management, but it has been limited in the past by practical limitations in the technology. For a long time now, the idea of dynamic spectrum access and the use of geolocation and databases and so forth have promised a world where sharing becomes almost automatic and very simple."

He added that spectrum sharing is already present in the United States, but that there needs to be more cooperation between industry and the ACMA to achieve this goal -- which is fortunately another opportunity present within Australia.

"We have a very knowledgeable, skilled, and active industry in spectrum management that already provides a great deal of the intellectual input into the planning framework," he said.

"That's through contribution to every stage of the development of the planning ... so I think our combined opportunity or challenge is to figure out our progress to further harness this even more into the future."

Hose said that the second opportunity, the spectrum review currently being undertaken by the federal government, is "a massive opportunity to reset the framework".

"The spectrum review provides the mandate for the encouragement and the requirement for us to have a good look at this spectrum planning and frameworks that have evolved over the past 20 years or so," Hose explained.

The spectrum review is examining whether to overhaul the legislation, licensing, and pricing of spectrum, with Australian Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield saying the old legislation was so outdated as to be rendered "redundant".

The government published its consultation paper on the matter in March, acquiescing to the recommendations outlined by the ACMA in May last year. Spectrum frequency, geographic location, duration, whether a licence can be renewed, conditions where the ACMA would not renew a licence, terms for changing and revoking licences, payment mechanisms, and amounts to be charged will all be updated under the new legislation.

The ACMA on Monday also provided an update on its IoT planning program, with Nevio Marinelli, manager of the ACMA's Spectrum Planning Section, saying IoT is at the "top of the hype cycle".

"Our role is to examine the adequacy of spectrum arrangements for the Internet of Things. There's a huge diversity of users and uses; we believe there's no one simple solution to spectrum access through all these applications," Marinelli said.

"IoT is turning towards requiring access to a range of different bands, and a range of access protocols, from dedicated spectrum to common spectrum, and options in between. In many cases, there's already radio frequency spectrum available for the use of IoT applications. These applications can and are being deployed in a range of bands within the existing regulatory framework by existing licensees or in cooperation with existing licensees."

Marinelli said the ACMA is also monitoring IoT developments in other regions and countries, but cautioned that different spectrum arrangements overseas means not all solutions will be available in Australia.

"We'll have to examine those in the context of what we already have and what's existing, so we can't just import whatever is happening overseas," Marinelli said.

The ACMA had previously argued in favour of a default spectrum band for all IoT devices across the globe, or, alternatively, sensors that can identify which country a device is operating in.

While the ACMA cannot directly regulate worldwide standards on IoT spectrum frequency, it can influence these decisions, the ACMA's head of Operations, Services, and Technologies Mark Loney said in March.

To mitigate the issues of device compliance and deployment, the ACMA came up with three possible solutions: A default frequency worldwide for all IoT devices, which it suggested should be the 915-928MHz band; a low-cost receiver that knows which country the device is in; and a higher-cost, more complex device sensor to be installed on IoT devices that can identify exactly where it is, and therefore which mode to operate in.

The government agency in December released a set of proposed changes to spectrum regulations aimed at providing easier access for M2M operators utilising spectrum for the IoT, and outgoing ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman in February emphasised the need for IoT spectrum.

Finally, the ACMA on Monday discussed its steps for handling spectrum allocation and access for 5G, saying it is monitoring 5G developments in the US, Korea, and Europe; participating in studies and work associated with World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) agenda item 1.13; supporting industry during 5G development, including for Telstra's 5G trial during the 2018 Commonwealth Games; and, again, working alongside industry.

"Recognising that some of these developments may occur rapidly, the ACMA will, as appropriate, engage with industry to discuss possible progression of 5G bands beyond the monitoring stage if and when relevant information and demand requires it," David Goggin, spectrum engineer and spectrum planner for the ACMA, said.

"The appropriateness and timing of any such actions will depend heavily on the availability of adequate information for the ACMA. The important consideration in any such discussion will be what is the most appropriate approach for Australia and the ACMA to adopt in the development of 5G spectrum in our millimetre-wave bands.

"For example, a conventional and traditional approach has been for us to wait and see what happens internationally in harmonised spectrum before making a decision, let ecosystems develop; another approach would be to be more proactive and adopt what we believe will potentially become worldwide bands for 5G, where we think ecosystems will be likely to develop even potentially before decisions from WRC are made."

Chris Althaus from the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) said a 5G group has been set up by the industry, part of which is specifically focused on Electromagnetic Environment (EME) concerns.

"AMTA has set up a 5G group and one very specific work stream within that 5G group will be EME because of the obvious manifestation of the density of networks and how that's going to play out in the EME space," Althaus said at the ACMA event on Monday.

"Industry is very, very focused on this subject, and it will be a key part of our 5G work program."

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