Telcos don’t want door shut on additional mmWave spectrum for 5G

Telstra, Optus call for ACMA to leave options open on 28GHz band

Telstra and Optus have urged the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to leave open the possibility of local mobile operators getting access to spectrum in one of the bands being used in other countries to deliver 5G.

Australia’s first 5G services use the 3.6GHz band, which the ACMA auctioned-off last year at the government’s behest. Telstra, Optus and a TPG-Vodafone joint venture collectively shelled out $834 million for spectrum in the auction (Dense Air also walked away with spectrum it picked up for $18.5 million). 

However, high-frequency, millimetre wave frequencies (or ‘mmWave’) will play an important role in the delivery of future 5G services. In April, the ACMA said it intends to make a significant amount of spectrum in the broader 26GHz available to telcos for use in 5G deployments.

The regulator currently plans a hybrid-use licensing model, with some spectrum available for satellite infrastructure as well as mobile broadband services, although the future of the band is still subject to an ACMA consultation that will conclude later this year.

Internationally, 26GHz is being earmarked for 5G services in EU nations, including the UK, as well as India, China, and New Zealand. South Korea, the US, Canada, Japan, and Singapore are all eyeing or have allocated at least some spectrum for 5G in the 28GHz band. (The US has also allocated 24GHz spectrum for 5G.)

In Australia, the ACMA has indicated its preference for keeping 5G services out of the 28GHz band. Instead its current thinking is to have satellite services as well as fixed wireless — which could include services operated by NBN Co, wireless internet service providers (WISPs) or other wireless network operators — and possibly wireless point-to-point services in the band.

In an outline of options for the band, the ACMA noted that 2.4GHz had been earmarked for mobile operators in the extended 26GHz band.

In a submission to the ACMA consultation on the band, Telstra argued that there was still a case for leaving the door open to 5G services using 26GHz in metro areas.

Spectrum in the band may be necessary to “supplement the quantity of outdoor-usable mm‑Wave spectrum in the 26 GHz band, so that future licensees are able to deploy the full capability of mm‑Wave spectrum,” Telstra argued. If the need for the spectrum arose, metro 5G services could co-exist with a range of satellite services in the band, the telco argued.

Optus has taken a similar approach to Telstra, supporting a potential mixed-use scenario outlined by the ACMA as one possibility, allowing 5G services catering to major population centres to take advantage of the spectrum.

Satellite operator Viasat has reiterated its previously stated view that telcos should be locked out of the band.

“Viasat is preparing to support the operation of ViaSat-3 Asia-Pacific by reviewing potential locations for its ground infrastructure... Viasat is in early stage negotiations for the provision of SAN sites and fibre for that ground infrastructure,” the company argued in a submission.

“Placing the ground infrastructure in Australia provides a number of important public interest benefits to Australia. The investment in Australia would be hundreds of millions of dollars. Accordingly, Viasat is highly invested in the outcome of this consultation. Reliable access to the entire 28 GHz band is critical to where Viasat will locate the ground infrastructure.”

Qantas and Boeing have a similar position, with the former arguing that dedicating the band to satellite services would provide it “with certainty to continue to offer Wi-Fi speeds up to 10 times faster than conventional on-board Wi-Fi from the most remote regions and airports to metropolitan areas in Australia”.