14 December 2006
Conference highlights importance of smart spectrum regulation to Australia’s communications future
The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s inaugural conference on spectrum issues has reinforced the growing importance of ‘leading edge’ radiocommunications regulation to the converging communications industry, according to ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman.
‘A consistent theme of the conference was the conundrum of ever greater claims on spectrum for new and exciting applications having to be balanced against the ongoing legitimate needs of incumbents,’ said Mr Chapman.
‘Managing these issues is a core issue for ACMA, and one that has ramifications not just for the communications industry, but the everyday lives of all Australians. We have to be smart in how we tackle this situation and always be prepared to think outside the square to develop innovative approaches.
‘The meeting of stakeholders was a tremendous opportunity for ACMA to signal the hot issues and priority tasks it sees in the coming months and years and to draw immediate and sometimes passionate feedback from industry on those issues and that work program,’ he said.
‘Open and ongoing consultation is integral to ACMA’s new approach to its regulatory role. I extend an invitation to all participants, all stakeholders, to actively engage with us in a consistent and focused way as with respect to the vitally important matter of radiocommunications.
‘We found the conference very useful and plan to make it an annual event and would encourage those who attended to provide feedback to help us make the event more facilitative.’
The conference, RadComms 2006, was held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 December 2006. Conference papers and presentations are available here on the ACMA website.
Speakers on Monday included David Ball, Intelsat; Dr Sue Barrell, Bureau of Meteorology; Colonel Stephen Bottcher, Department of Defence and Julie Flynn, Free TV Australia.
Tuesday speakers included Joan Warner, Commercial Radio Australia; Gabriel Phillips, GS1 Australia; Stewart Wallace, Telstra; and Dr Graeme King, Nortel.
Media contact: Donald Robertson, ACMA Media Manager on (02) 9334 7980.
Emerging technologies such as WiMAX and IMT-2000 fourth generation mobile phone standards have the capability to become key economic enablers. To respond to the needs of a competitive and diverse Australian communications industry, ACMA believes there must be enough spectrum released in a timely way so as not to inhibit the rollout of these new technologies.
ACMA understands the nature of the multi-tiered communications industry and acknowledges that some wireless internet service providers (ISPs) are currently being inhibited by a lack of available spectrum capable of supporting wireless access services (WAS). Wireless ISPs play a key role in making broadband available in towns and regional areas, and ACMA recognises that there needs to be spectrum available to support both Australia-wide networks and regional-based networks.
ACMA’s strategy for WAS is to ensure that sufficient spectrum is available to meet current and future demand, using technology-flexible arrangements that stimulate competition and recognise the varying needs of operators across Australia. To achieve this, a number of factors need to be considered when identifying spectrum for WAS, including:
- the amount of spectrum that is required to meet both current demand and the estimated future demand;
- where the spectrum is needed and when it should be released (for example, more spectrum will be needed in highly populated areas);
- the most suitable frequency bands, which can be affected by factors such as global harmonisation and economies of scale, standardisation, incumbent services and the potential for sharing or relocation, and whether the spectrum can be made available in a reasonable time frame;
- how to best make the spectrum available—ensuring a technology-flexible framework and determining the most appropriate licensing and allocation mechanism(s); and
- balancing the needs of new and existing users—developing alternative spectrum arrangements for incumbent services if they are required to relocate.
In February 2006, ACMA released the discussion paper Strategies for Wireless Access Services. The discussion paper sought stakeholder input on these factors and identified several candidate frequency bands for WAS. The release of the paper was coordinated with ACMA’s first spectrum seminar—the topic in that case being spectrum for wireless access. The seminar was well received and ACMA gained valuable input from industry.
Forty-seven submissions were received to the discussion paper which, when studied in the context of ACMA’s policy of market-based spectrum liberalisation, helped form the basis for the WAS spectrum strategy.
As part of its ongoing consultation process, ACMA released a second discussion paper, Strategies for Wireless Access Services: Spectrum Access Options on 1 December 2006. The paper identify bands that ACMA believes are currently the most suitable candidates for WAS in the short, medium and long term and seeks detailed comments on the identified bands, including some high-level options for band segmentation and licensing.
The potential spectrum has been identified after consideration of stakeholder input to the February discussion paper. The identified bands are:
- Short term: 1785–1805 MHz in regional and remote areas
- Medium term: 2500–2690 MHz and 3575–3710 MHz
- Longer term: 520–820 MHz
ACMA has invited comments on the issues raised in the discussion paper and any other stakeholder issues. Written comments should be received by 28 February 2007.
ACMA expects to announce decisions on bands for WAS following the evaluation of comments received to this discussion paper. Further work may then be required on matters including band segmentation, technical frameworks, arrangements for incumbent services, licensing framework details and allocation procedures.
Brief overview of WAS demand
High demand for spectrum to support WAS has become evident over the last decade. From small local area networks (LANs) supporting internet access in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) bands (2.4 and 5.8 GHz) about six years ago, there is now demand for regional area networks and networks providing Australia-wide coverage. A number of enterprises have already established city-wide networks, and the number of networks in regional towns continues to grow. The continuing increase in the use and capabilities of cellular mobile networks, and the increasing development and demand for converged devices using broadband, is increasing the pressure to provide spectrum to support these services.
The high unmet demand for broadband wireless access (BWA) licences in the 1900 1920 MHz band, released in 2004, indicated the need for a strategy to provide sufficient spectrum to support future WAS development and deployment.
The demand for spectrum to support WAS is being driven by a number of factors:
- increasing demand for broadband;
- increasing use of wireless to provide broadband;
- the requirement for greater bandwidth to cater for new services/applications and an expectation that these services will be available ‘anywhere, anytime’;
- pro-active policies by government providing funding for projects;
- limited access to high rate data services in regional and remote areas; and
- international trends providing an increasing availability of low-cost equipment and other benefits from spectrum harmonisation.
Estimating future spectrum requirements for WAS is a complex task that is dependent on multiple variables including traffic forecasts, subscriber numbers, usage patterns, future deployment scenarios and services to be supported. Submissions to ACMA’s February paper indicated that there is significant unmet demand, and some respondents provided estimates for additional spectrum which ranged from 30–120 MHz per operator.
Internationally, various estimates have been made regarding the amount of spectrum to cater for future WAS requirements. While the actual amount of spectrum is still being debated, organisations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Ofcom (the United Kingdom communications regulator) have estimated that significant amounts of spectrum will be required to cater for future growth in WAS.