ACMA lays out draft plan for future of Australian airwaves

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) today laid out its draft plan for the management of Australia’s spectrum – the wireless communications frequencies that carry mobile data, satellite transmissions and broadcast signals.

The draft Five-year spectrum outlook 2024–29 (FYSO) canvasses a range of potential use cases, including increasing the spectrum available for 5G wireless broadband as well as new satellite technologies, both supporting greater network coverage and connectivity.

ACMA authority member and spectrum lead Adam Suckling said the ACMA was now calling on stakeholders to give their thoughts on the draft plan to help shape the future of Australia’s digital communications over the next five years.

“Spectrum management isn’t discussed a lot in Australia but it plays an enormous role in our everyday lives,” Mr Suckling said.

“Without knowing it, each and every day Australians use spectrum for everything from watching TV to using their mobiles and accessing the internet. Spectrum also supports the most critical infrastructure that drives business and our national economy, so it’s incredibly important we consult as widely as possible on its future use.”

The draft FYSO also looks at potential future use of the upper 6 GHz frequency band.

“Internationally, the upper 6 GHz band is growing in importance for both 5G as well as the next generation of  technology, with strong and divergent views on the best use of the band. Accordingly, we are moving to the preliminary planning stage in order to come to a decision on the future use of this band.

“We are also now implementing our approach to the 1.9GHz band so that various uses of the band can coexist. For example, that will mean rail services and major entertainment events can have access to this band at the same time. Performers at large concerts can use wireless microphones without the risk of interfering with the next generation of railway communications used by the trains bringing fans to the venue.

“The ACMA will also complete its program of allocations of important 3.4-4.0 GHz spectrum, which have been designed to accommodate a range of users and use cases. Applications for area-wide licences in the 3.8 GHz band of this spectrum will open shortly.

“Spectrum licences in this band allow organisations to build their own private communications networks to support their business needs,” Mr Suckling said.

“We have already seen an uptake of private networks by the construction and mining sectors and are starting to see other sectors showing an interest as well, such as agriculture, transport and utilities businesses.

“We anticipate this trend will continue, with increasing demand for private networks using 5G technology.”

The ACMA has published the draft FYSO on its website with consultation submissions closing COB 22 April 2024.

Competition, coverage and connectivity key to future use of Australian airwaves

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a public discussion paper inviting stakeholders to contribute to the future use of Australia’s spectrum – the radio frequencies that facilitate telecommunications over public airwaves, including for mobile phone and internet services.

Many of the current 20-year spectrum licences issued to Australia’s major telcos are set to expire between 2028 and 2032. This spectrum is mainly used to provide mobile telecommunications services across Australia and is highly valued by incumbents.

This is the first time the ACMA has been responsible for considering the future of these licences that, under law, may be renewed, partially renewed or refused to be renewed.

With the potential release of this spectrum to other users, the expiry of these licences is one of the most critically important issues facing the telecommunications sector over the coming decade.

To inform its future decisions, the ACMA’s paper seeks information from incumbents on their current and future use of this spectrum and from potential new users on alternative uses. In addition, we are seeking views on the use of licence conditions that may improve efficiency and coverage to the benefit of all Australians.

ACMA authority member and spectrum lead Adam Suckling said radio waves are a finite public resource that the ACMA manages with the aim of delivering the most effective social, technological and economic outcomes.

“Given the critical importance of spectrum usage to industry, the economy and the public, we are starting the process now – well in advance of the expiry dates,” Mr Suckling said.

“We are talking about very high value spectrum, ideal for facilitating 5G mobile internet and even 6G as we look ahead over the next decade and beyond.

“We are seeing new technologies and innovations on the horizon, such as network sharing models and satellite applications, that could boost competition nationally as well as improve network coverage in regional areas.

“We recognise that this is not a ‘greenfields’ exercise with the use of some frequency bands for a particular service, such as wireless broadband, not in contention. However, with around three-quarters of long-term spectrum licences expiring, it is timely to consider whether there is potential to enhance competition and provide more choice for consumers.

“These licences will significantly shape the future of Australia’s telecommunications landscape, so it’s important we include as many views in the decision-making process as we can.

“As the ACMA works through this process, we will be guided by the public interest objectives of the Radiocommunications Act and ministerial policy statements. We will look at things such as whether the use of spectrum is efficient, promotes investment, coverage, innovation and enhances competition,” Mr Suckling said.

The ACMA will release its preliminary views on long-term options for the relevant spectrum in late 2024.