ACMA proposes 1800 MHz auction for regional areas

Comments on draft recommendation due 11 March

Australia’s telecom regulator will move forward a proposal to auction off spectrum in the regional 1800 MHz band to telcos for enhanced 4G LTE services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) today released the terms of a draft recommendation it proposes to make to the minister for communications about the reallocation of radiofrequency spectrum in the regional 1800 MHz band for long-term spectrum licences.

The ACMA said it will seek comments on the terms of the draft terms before making a formal recommendation to the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. If Turnbull accepts the recommendation and makes a reallocation declaration, the ACMA plans to allocate the spectrum by auction.

Interested parties must submit comments by 11 March, the ACMA said. The full discussion paper is available on the ACMA website.

The ACMA had earlier floated the idea of changing spectrum licensing and regulatory arrangements for the 1800 MHz band in a spectrum issues paper released in December 2012.

Australian mobile operators use the 1800 MHz band for 4G LTE services in major cities. With demand for 4G increasing in regional areas from telcos, railway authorities and mining and energy companies, the ACMA said it’s now time to reallocate 1800 MHz spectrum in these rural places as well.

“Spectrum-licensed access to the 1800 MHz band would benefit various industry sectors in Australia and, ultimately, citizens and consumers, who would enjoy the flow on economic and social benefits from international harmonisation of this band and equipment economies of scale,” said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman.

The 1800 MHz spectrum, which is located in the ranges 1725-1785 MHz and 1820-1880 MHz, is currently subject to apparatus licensing and is used mainly for fixed links.

“Those licensing arrangements in the band are not able to accommodate potential future uses of the band, such as the delivery of mobile services to regional Australia,” Chapman said.

“The release of the terms of the draft reallocation recommendation marks the first legislative step in reallocating the regional 1800 MHz band for new uses.”

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus said the announcement will be very relevant to three big telcos – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

“This is an important new opportunity to add to spectrum resources available in regional Australia for mobile purposes,” Althaus told Computerworld Australia.

“Industry looks forward to working through the details with the ACMA, but certainly we welcome this first step announced today.”

The ACMA has yet to decide what to do with another chunk of spectrum that could be used for 4G LTE – the 700 MHz spectrum that could not be sold in the 2013 Digital Dividend auction. Last year, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked the ACMA to investigate options and submit its findings. Further discussion on the issue is expected this year.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags mobileAustralian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)spectrumtelecom1800 MHzspectrum auctionregional australia

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