- Digital broadcasting
- Spectrum planning
Digital switchover is a key element of a package of broader reforms to the Australian media landscape.
Digital Action Plan
The Digital Action Plan (DAP), released by the Minister on 23 November 2006, is the roadmap for the conversion of Australian terrestrial free-to-view television to digital transmission. ACMA has an ongoing role under the DAP, including leadership of several key aspects of the plan.
The broad objective of the DAP is to facilitate a smooth transition from analog to digital television for Australian consumers—the switch-over will mean the cessation of analog television broadcasting and will require consumers to acquire digital receiving equipment.
ACMA’s DAP Taskforce is focusing on digital transmitter rollout, analysis of operational factors relating to switch-over, a coverage and field strength survey program, research work on digital take-up, assessing the requirement for codes and standards, and digital dividend planning.
ACMA has continued its development of a program of research into the strength of digital coverage and the identification of any areas with digital reception problems. The program is being linked to a register of complaints received by ACMA about digital reception problems.
In 2006–07, ACMA completed a further survey of the uptake of digital television by Australian consumers. ACMA will continue monitoring and reporting on the progress towards digital uptake by consumers through a series of information gathering and research projects, including studies of adopter behaviour, retail experience for consumers and household receiver configurations.
As part of the Broadcasting Legislation (Digital television) Act 2006 (No 128 2006), ACMA acquired powers to oversee the development of industry codes of practice and to make standards in relation to digital television transmission and reception. An examination of the areas where standards or code regulation might assist the switch-over to digital transmission is under way, with particular reference to equipment labelling.
During the reporting period, ACMA was invited by the Minister to participate in the Industry Advisory Group which will assist Digital Australia in the switch-over to digital broadcasting. The group will meet regularly to consider matters referred to it by Digital Australia, or issues which its members may identify as requiring consideration.
See also High definition broadcasting requirements under Content regulation in Chapter 3.
In April 2007, ACMA commissioned research into community attitudes to digital television. Key issues explored included participants’ use of and attitudes to television; their understanding of what digital television is and what it might mean for them; awareness of digital availability and equipment; knowledge about analog switch-off and what this might mean to them; and sources of information about digital television.
Findings from the research will contribute to shaping the design and methodology of future ACMA quantitative research to be undertaken in the lead-up to digital switch-over.
The research was conducted in May 2007, with three discussion groups held in each location of Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and the Gold Coast. The research was conducted by Woolcott Research. The outcomes of the research will be available in the next reporting period.
Research and reporting
In May 2007, ACMA released its report Digital Media in Australian Homes 2006. The report is part of an ongoing program of research into community and technical issues relevant to the adoption of and switch-over to digital television in Australia.
The key finding was that household penetration of digital free-to-air television was 29.6 per cent, more than double the level of penetration of 13 per cent from the July 2005 survey. It is estimated that 41 per cent of households had either digital free-to-air television or digital subscription television.
The study, conducted for ACMA by Eureka Strategic Research, comprised a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,537 Australian households, including a representative sub-sample of 455 digital free-to-air television adopters.
In May 2007, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to implement the government’s policy framework for the introduction of digital radio by national broadcasters and broadcasting services bands (BSB) licensees. The legislation requires ACMA to plan for the introduction of digital radio services in the six state capital cities by 1 January 2009. The legislation is based on the use of digital audio broadcasting (DAB/DAB+) digital radio technology.
Although not part of the legislation, the policy framework allows for the provision of non-BSB digital radio services by operators of non-BSB delivered services.
ACMA is in the process of planning the introduction of digital radio in non-BSB spectrum, a part of which involves embargoing the use of suitable bands below 30 MHz. This is intended to avoid premature introduction of unplanned services that may compromise the benefits to the public that would otherwise result from the introduction of planned services. ACMA believes that a greater public benefit should be realised if the bands are planned before introducing services. ACMA will undertake public consultation as part of its planning process.
Digital radio trials
Broadcasting services bands trials
During the reporting period, ACMA revised its guidelines for digital radio trials using the BSB policy to broaden their scope, reference the government’s policy parameters for the introduction of digital radio and clarify how ACMA might respond to requests for digital radio trials.
Following revision of these guidelines, ACMA allocated a licence to TJH Systems to operate a trial of Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) technology in Wollongong, using the unused Sydney MF-AM band frequency of 1386 kHz.
In May 2007, ACMA endorsed the continuation of digital radio trials in Melbourne and Sydney by Broadcast Australia and Commercial Radio Australia to 30 June 2008 and 31 December 2008 respectively. These trials use the DAB/DAB+ technology within VHF television channel 9A in both cities.
Non-broadcasting services bands trials
ACMA will consider licence applications for trials to investigate use of the bands for DRM services. Expressions of interest were received from the communications industry to trial DRM in non-BSB spectrum, with trial licences issued accordingly. One trial using DRM in a non-BSB spectrum band (MF NAS band) has commenced in Sydney.
In international trials, DRM has been shown to have better immunity to interference, superior audio quality and greater coverage area than analog transmissions. In Australia, the planning emphasis is likely to be for the use of DRM, which is a digital radio technology supported internationally for frequency bands below 30 MHz, including for non-BSB spectrum. DRM is considered a complementary technology to DAB.
As in many other countries, Australia must constantly address the balance between government use of the spectrum and its availability for use by the broader community. ACMA continues to work to balance the competing demands of the defence and essential services sector with the broader community requirements for access to spectrum.
ACMA plans and manages the radiofrequency spectrum in Australia. It is responsible for compliance with licensing requirements and investigating complaints of interference to services. The scope of ACMA’s role includes spectrum planning, apparatus licensing, class licensing, spectrum licensing, auctions and trading, and satellite communications and space systems regulation.
Held in Cairns in June 2007, the second Spectrum Regulators Forum involved regulators from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong, and facilitated exchanges of views on a wide range of topics covering public policy, planning and operational matters. Hosted by ACMA, discussion covered spectrum pricing, client satisfaction, spectrum for broadband wireless access, plans for the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2007, cognitive radio and spectrum management philosophies in general.
Independent review of government spectrum holdings
In June 2006, ACMA entered into a contract with a private consultancy firm for the provision of an independent review of government spectrum holdings. The review aims to assist ACMA to better meet its statutory obligations, in particular, balancing the overall public benefit derived from use of the radiofrequency spectrum resource and the need to make adequate provision of spectrum for defence, national security, law enforcement, emergency services and other government agency requirements.
The review describes the current and potential uses of major government spectrum holdings and identifies whether the overall public benefit would be maximised by making all or part of bands used by government available for non-government use. It also identifies mechanisms and approaches to assist ACMA in considering requests for new government spectrum holdings.
Extensive consultation was an important element of the review, with strong interest from government stakeholders in addition to the broader Australian radiofrequency spectrum community.
ACMA is currently assessing the results of the consultant’s report, completed in April 2007.
Telstra CDMA and Next G™ network coverage comparison
Telstra has announced its intention to shut down its existing CDMA mobile phone network and replace it with a new third generation (3G) network that would deliver coverage at least equivalent to that of the old network. The 3G technology is often referred to as either 3GSM 850 or wideband-CDMA (WCDMA). The Telstra marketing name for the new network is ‘Next G™’.
In February 2006, the Minister asked ACMA to participate in a working group with DCITA and Telstra to look at service quality and regulatory issues concerned with transition to 3G. ACMA is conducting benchmarking audits of the voice coverage provided by both networks, through a contractor selected in late 2006 by an open tender process. The audits are intended to provide independent assessment of whether the 3G network coverage is at least equivalent to CDMA.
Telstra’s CDMA network is scheduled for closure in February 2008, provided equivalent coverage is achieved. A final report on the Next G™ network coverage will be provided to the Minister later in 2007.
Wireless access services
Globally, wireless devices and technologies are driving strong demand for higher speed internet access in both metropolitan and rural areas. This can deliver substantial economic and social benefits. The international demand for radiofrequency bandwidth is being fuelled by new bandwidth-dependent applications, such as digital video streaming, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and the emergence of machine-to-machine communication devices. Wireless standardisation efforts, such as IMT-2000 and WiMAX, represent competition at work in the international broadband wireless market.
Wireless plays an increasingly important role in providing economic broadband delivery, being able to provide high data rates over greater distances and, in some circumstances, is more rapidly deployed than current wireline local access technologies. It can also be deployed in areas where there is insufficient access to suitable wireline infrastructure. These features make wireless more attractive for regional and rural areas. While many frequency bands already support various categories of wireless access services, spectrum demand and planning for wireless services remains an important and challenging issue.
In February 2006, ACMA commenced a strategic consultation process with the release of a major spectrum planning discussion paper entitled Strategies for Wireless Access Services. This paper aimed to stimulate discussion and solicit stakeholder views to guide ACMA in the compilation of short, medium and long-term strategies to support the development and deployment of wireless access services in Australia. A key issue raised in the paper was the relative differentiation of wireless spectrum access between city, regional and rural users.
In December 2006, ACMA published a spectrum planning discussion paper entitled Strategies for Wireless Access Services: Spectrum Access Options, which built on the outcomes of the February paper. It presented suitable candidate bands for the short, medium and long term and sought detailed comments on the bands and options for band segmentation and licensing. The paper also was presented at Radcomms 2006, ACMA’s first annual conference on spectrum management, held in December 2006 in Sydney.
Responses to the December paper are being analysed before decisions are made on options and licensing frameworks.
Longer-term estimates of spectrum demand
The radiofrequency spectrum is a finite and valuable resource that needs to be managed for the overall public benefit. There are many competing demands for its use and many indications that this demand is, if anything, increasing.
ACMA commenced a strategic project to estimate the spectrum requirements for radiocommunications services over the next five, 10 and 15 years. Part of the project is ACMA’s engagement of several consultants to research and gather information on the current and future spectrum demands of broad categories of service. The service categories on which they are reporting are broadcasting, land mobile, satellite, space sciences, fixed, wireless access, cellular, aeronautical and radiodetermination services. The consultants are providing the economic and technical case for the frequency bands the services will need to use over the next 15 years.
These studies are the initial step in the development of an overall spectrum management strategy for Australia.
ACMA provides ongoing advice to Australian Government agencies and the space community on space radiocommunications. During the reporting period, ACMA provided advice on:
- the proposed introduction of the European Union’s Galileo global navigation system to Australia and issues relating to the US system, GPS;
- the bid to have the most advanced radio telescope in the world, the Square Kilometre Array, based in Australia;
- activities of the European Space Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency as they relate to Australia; and
- regulatory matters for Australian satellite operators.
Satellite system filings
In 2006–07, ACMA assessed 2,238 proposals from other countries relating to new or modified satellite networks. These technical assessments are performed to identify any networks that could affect Australian radiocommunications services, such as terrestrial services, and operating and planned Australian satellite networks. As a result of these assessments, ACMA negotiates with other countries to try and find agreeable solutions to any issues while working to protect Australian radiocommunications services and preserve future spectrum requirements.
ACMA provided support for Australian satellite networks already established or planned to operate in the geostationary orbit. These include satellite networks for the Department of Defence, Asiaspace Limited, Optus Networks Pty Ltd, PanAmSat Asia Pty Ltd, Kagoe Communications Pty Ltd and the Broadcasting Satellite Service list.
ACMA also provided support to the Australian networks operating or planned to operate in the non-geostationary orbit such as Federation Satellite One (of the former Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems and now the responsibility of the Department of Defence), Sirion Global Pty Ltd and Australian S2COM Pty Ltd.
During the reporting period, two amendments were made to the Radiocommunications (Foreign Space Objects) Determination 2000. These changes reflect a change of company name from ‘Binariang Satellites Systems SDN. BHD’ to ‘Measat Satellite Systems Sdn. Bhd.’ and from ‘New Skies Satellites B.V.’ to ‘SES New Skies’.
ACMA also facilitated the introduction of a new mobile satellite telephone service by Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company and addressed the merger between Intelsat Limited and PanAmSat Corporation.