Australian spectrum management principles | ACMA

Australian spectrum management principles

This page describes the principles and constraints that together define Australia’s approach to spectrum planning. These principles have been gathered in a publication available for download from this page.

The Radiocommunications Act 1992

The radio spectrum is a sovereign asset. In Australia it is managed for the Commonwealth Government by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) - an independent Statutory Authority within the Commonwealth Government's Communications portfolio which reports directly to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

The ACMA must manage the spectrum in accordance with the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) which sets out the objectives and the tools available to it. These tools include powers relating to frequency planning, licensing and technical standards. The Act also contains provisions on public consultation and rights of appeal.

International Telecommunication Union

Spectrum planning is a multi-faceted activity drawing on the disciplines of engineering, economics and social science. Planning is conducted within an overarching international framework. In most countries, including Australia, planning starts at the international level through participation in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU is a technical arm of the United Nations and maintains the international Radio Regulations, which sets out the allocations of various bands to various types of services.

Australia, like many other countries, is a signatory to the ITU Convention. This means that Australia has obligations under international law regarding compliance with the Radio Regulations. In essence, Australia must not cause interference to the services of other countries where those services operate in accordance with the Regulations conversely, Australian services are entitled to protection against interference from other countries only when our services operate in accordance with the Radio Regulations.

Radio wave propagation

The way in which a radio wave propagates depends on its frequency. Different frequencies will have different characteristics with regard to how far the radio wave travels or can penetrate through trees or into buildings. The needs of the various types of services are also different. One of the fundamental aims of technical planning is to maximise the use of the spectrum by matching the needs of a service with the appropriate propagation characteristics.

The cost of equipment is also often frequency dependent. Generally speaking, cost increases as the frequency increases.

A consequence of the above two factors is that some bands are more valuable and in much higher demand than others.

Technical planning in Australia

The Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan

The Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan (ARSP) is the broadest level technical document showing the allocation of bands to various types of services. It is a bit like a town plan subdividing land into zones. As well as giving the first layer of spectrum resource allocation, there is a degree of interference avoidance built into the service allocation relationships and associated regulations.

The ARSP is drawn from, and kept current with, the ITU Radio Regulations, which are revised every few years at World Radiocommunication Conferences.

The ARSP is the first planning document that should be consulted regarding spectrum arrangements in Australia. However, it is just the starting point and is not usually sufficient for assigning specific frequencies to users for frequency co-ordination, two lower levels of planning are usually necessary as described below.

Band plans and channel plans

Band plans and channel plans (e.g. Microwave Fixed Services - RALI FX3) take a band of spectrum and provide a more detailed description of how the band is allocated. Band plans provide detailed allocation of the spectrum resource between types of services. They usually contain detailed frequency channelling arrangements and build in a number of specific interference avoidance measures. These plans are developed as and when necessary.

Frequency co-ordination procedures

To avoid interference, radio receivers need to be adequately separated in frequency or in geographic distance from undesired transmissions, or in some combination of both. The frequency/distance separation relationship is dependent on the characteristics of the services concerned and on the propagation characteristics of the frequency band. It is necessary to establish and codify these relationships to enable frequency assignments to be made and interference to be avoided. Documentation for various frequency coordination scenarios is also available on the ACMA website.

Licensing

Generally, the Act requires that the users of transmitters must be licensed. There are three forms of licences allowed:

  1. Apparatus licences - specify the category of service (e.g. fixed or mobile) and the technical characteristics including the location, power, frequency of operation and the radiofrequency emission type. These licences are usually site-based, usually issued over-the-counter, and represent the majority of the ACMA’s licensing activity. Apparatus licences may be traded. More information on licensing categories and fees is available electronically. You can also access an online database of current licensees.

  2. Spectrum licences - these area-based licences are intended to be technology and service neutral to the extent possible (i.e. the type of service is not specified) so as to give maximum flexibility to the licensee. Once allocated, these spectrum assets are fully tradeable, and can be sub-divided or amalgamated in either the geographic or the frequency band domain. This allows licensees to acquire, through participation in auctions or through trading in the secondary market, whatever spectrum space is necessary to deploy the type of service required. To support this approach, technical frameworks are established to manage interference across the area and spectrum boundaries of adjacent licensees.

  3. Class licences - typically, class licences are umbrella licences designed to provide "public parks" for the authorised use of various low powered devices that have a low interference potential. Common examples of these devices are garage door openers, remote car door locks and intruder alarms, wireless microphones, automatic tollway systems and tag security systems. Provided these transmitters comply with the conditions of the class licence, then individual licences are not required.

Radiocommunications standards

Radiocommunications standards are developed as necessary to ensure compatibility or to contain emissions from transmitters.

Interference management options

Interference is managed by the combined effects of licensing, regulations, standards and frequency co-ordination procedures. The three forms of licensing described above all manage interference but have different mixes of these essential ingredients. Deciding on the appropriate form of licensing for a particular application is a matter of choosing ‘horses for courses’.

Principles for spectrum management  

The ACMA released the final Principles for Spectrum Management (the Principles) (PDF [196 kB] or Word [1.7 MB]) on 31 March 2009.

The final Principles are:

  1. Allocate spectrum to the highest value use or uses

  2. Enable and encourage spectrum to move to its highest value use or uses

  3. Use the least cost and least restrictive approach to achieving policy objectives

  4. To the extent possible, promote both certainty and flexibility

  5. Balance the cost of interference and the benefits of greater spectrum utilisation

The key theme of the Principles is that maximising the overall public benefit from use of the radiofrequency spectrum requires balanced application of both regulatory and market mechanisms.

The ACMA has finalised the Principles after taking into consideration the views expressed by stakeholders about the consultation paper. The ACMA received 42 submissions in response to the draft spectrum management principles released on 15 April 2008.

The ACMA also released the Response to the Submissions on the Draft Spectrum Management Principles (PDF [344 kB] or Word [336 kb]). This paper provides more information on the Principles and the ACMA’s views on related issues raised by stakeholders in their consultation submissions. 

Enquiries and comments on the Principles may be sent by email: spectrumprinciples@acma.gov.au.

Last updated: 15 September 2017