Government moves to boost mobile broadband spectrum

Government accepts ACMA recommendation to reallocate spectrum in the 1800MHz band for 4G LTE services in regional areas

More spectrum will be made available in the 1800MHz band for mobile broadband services, the government said today.

The government will release 2 x 60MHz of spectrum in regional Australia, a statement issued by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

The minister has issued a reallocation declaration for the spectrum.

Spectrum in the 1800MHz band is already used for mobile broadband in metropolitan areas. However, in the past been spectrum in the band has been apparatus licensed in some regional and remote parts of Australia, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Metropolitan licensees include Telstra, Optus and Vodafone as well as state rail authorities.

"In regional areas, the frequency ranges 1710–1725 MHz and 1805–1820 MHz (2 x 15 MHz) are spectrum-licensed," an ACMA discussion paper released in February stated.

"Licences are mainly held by Telstra, with VHA having holdings in Canberra, Hobart and Darwin. The remaining 2 x 60 MHz of the band is subject to apparatus licensing. In remote areas, the entire 2 x 75 MHz of the band is subject to apparatus licensing. "

"The regional 1800 MHz band is predominantly used for fixed point-to-point links," the discussion paper stated.

"There are approximately 700 fixed point-to-point licences in the 1800 MHz band, with approximately 85 per cent of these held by Telstra, four per cent by BHP and 2.5 per cent by QR (Queensland Rail) Networks."

"Regional areas have tended to lag metropolitan areas in the availability of additional spectrum for the delivery of advanced mobile telecommunications applications and services," said Chris Althaus, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.

"Regional Australia, like metropolitan areas, is experiencing strong demand for advanced mobile telecommunications services, including mobile broadband

"Mobile infrastructure underpins economic and social development in the same way roads, railways and ports and Australian mobile network operators are investing billions of dollars on infrastructure to meet unprecedented consumer demand for mobile internet access and data — to this end the industry has ongoing interest in adding capacity to meet demand and customer expectations."

Turnbull's announcement follows a recommendation by the ACMA to reallocate the spectrum in the band for long-term spectrum licences.

Most of the spectrum is expected to be vacated by June 2017, the government said. The ACMA will work with users that have trouble meeting that timeframe and if necessary issue temporary apparatus licences.

The ACMA will auction off the spectrum in November.

Each auction participant will be limited to a maximum of 2 x 25MHz.

The 1800MHz auction follows on from 2013's 'Digital Dividend.

The government is also eyeing spectrum used by community TV for a future auction.

A recent Department of Communications review recommended changes to the government's role in managing spectrum. The government is considering its response to the review.