Acquiring Spectrum | ACMA

Acquiring Spectrum

Radiofrequency spectrum is the portion of the range of electromagnetic radiation that is used for communications technologies, such as radio, radar or television.

In general, under Australian legislation, it is against the law to operate a radiocommunications device unless it is authorised by a radiocommunications licence issued under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act). The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) is the body responsible for allocating those licences within Australia.

The Act generally therefore provides that the operation of a radiocommunications device must be authorised by a licence. There are currently three systems of radiocommunications licence:

  • apparatus licensing—use of individual devices, usually on a site-specific basis
  • spectrum licensing—use of a specified frequency band in a defined geographical area
  • class licensing—broad spectrum access arrangements which are open to all users.
You can obtain licences to use spectrum by any of the following means:
  1. by applying to the ACMA for an apparatus licence that is issued over the counter for an issue charge and annual licence fee

  2. by participating in auctions of spectrum conducted periodically by the ACMA

  3. by trading licences with other existing licence holders

  4. by obtaining third party authorisation from an existing licence holder to use their spectrum

  5. simply by using a radiocommunications device in compliance with the conditions of a class licence.

You can view details of past, current and future spectrum auctions .

Apparatus licensing and Spectrum licensing

There is no "one size fits all" licensing regime. The ACMA’s experience is that both apparatus and spectrum licences are very useful regulatory mechanisms. However, that experience also suggests that the two licence types are best deployed in different circumstances.

The following text is to assist stakeholders in their understanding of some of the factors the ACMA considers in deciding whether a band might be more appropriately subject to an apparatus or a spectrum licensing regime.

Class licensing, which does not require the issue of individual licences or payment of fees, is not included in this discussion.

Apparatus licensing

Apparatus licences authorise the operation of radiocommunications devices under specific technical conditions of use, such as frequency, power and geographical area. Spectrum use under apparatus licences is typically site-specific, but there are instances of nomadic Australia-wide use and area-wide systems use. Licences are usually issued over the counter for administratively determined prices, but may be auctioned when there is competing demand. An apparatus licence may be issued for up to 5 years and carries with it a presumption of licence renewal. Circumstances that may affect renewal of apparatus licences include the commencement of band replanning activities or the existence of a spectrum re-allocation declaration.

While apparatus licences can be thought of as typically providing exclusive use of a particular frequency at a particular location, this approach effectively enables multiple systems to coexist within close spectral and geographic boundaries. Such arrangements are coordinated in order to achieve a planned outcome that can accommodate a number of users.

Optimal conditions for apparatus licensing

The ACMA’s experience indicates that apparatus licensing is most appropriate for services and applications which generally satisfy one or more of the following conditions:

  • there are a large numbers of possible users (particularly in the same area)
  • different services with significantly different characteristics share a band
  • close coordination between users is needed
  • most users only want one site or a defined access area
  • most users only want one or a few channels
  • users require some guarantee of protection from unacceptable levels of interference in order to design a system to deliver a desired quality of service that is only possible in a managed interference environment
  • a database of spectrum users is needed for planning, coordination and interference investigations
  • users seek spectrum as a business enabler, rather than a large part of their operations, so they prefer the simplicity and predictability of a planned environment
  • the ACMA is well-placed to make a judgement about the highest value use, or the mix of uses that represents the highest value
  • there is little or no excess demand
  • demand for access is expected to slowly build over time.

Under these conditions, apparatus licensing can achieve desirable outcomes. Importantly, it enables many diverse users to share spectrum in highly technically efficient ways.

Spectrum licensing

Spectrum licences authorise the operation of radiocommunications devices within a ‘spectrum space’ defined by bandwidth, geographic area and time. Licensees can operate any type of equipment for any purpose under the licence provided they comply with the licence conditions and technical frameworks designed to manage the risk of unacceptable levels of interference to other spectrum users.

This form of licensing is typically characterised as an exclusive access model, although recent amendments to the Act provide for the introduction of class licences within spectrum licensed space.

Spectrum licences can be issued for up to 15 years and have a presumption of re-allocation via a price-based allocation process at expiry. Re-issue of the spectrum licence to the incumbent licensee may only be offered in certain circumstances. Details on the expiring spectrum licence process are available.

Optimal conditions for spectrum licensing

The ACMA’s experience is that spectrum licensing is likely to be the most successful approach when:

  • individual users need large contiguous blocks of spectrum
  • individual users need large licence areas
  • all likely future high value uses can be accommodated in a single technical framework
  • potential future spectrum licensees have the resources and technical capability to understand licence terms and adhere to technical requirements.

The successful use of spectrum licensing under the conditions described above has enabled strong technical efficiency and efficient deployment of area-wide and Australia-wide mobile telephony and broadband networks with limited ongoing government involvement. The technical flexibility and exclusivity of spectrum licences has allowed licensees to update technology when required and deploy large networks with certainty of protection from unacceptable levels of interference.

How to obtain the spectrum you need

Section 60 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) allows the ACMA to consider sale of spectrum licences by auction, by tender, or at a pre-determined or negotiated price. Section 106 of the Act provides for the use of similar price-based allocation systems for apparatus licences.

To access spectrum, follow these steps:


Work out how much spectrum you want and which band has the propagation characteristics suited to your requirement:

  1. Seek technical advice.

  2. Check the spectrum requirements of similar applications.

  3. Refer to spectrum and frequency plans.


Decide which licence type best suits your application. Some licence options guarantee tenure of the spectrum and provide higher levels of protection from interference. There are currently three types of licensing under the Act:

  1. Apparatus Licences authorise certain devices to use certain frequencies for specific purposes, and are generally issued to individual applicants where spectrum is available.

  2. Class Licences are also known as public park spectrum and authorise users of designated segments of spectrum to operate on a shared basis.

  3. Spectrum Licences authorise the use of spectrum space based on regulatory conditions referred to as the technical framework, and are generally offered at auction for multiple users in high demand spectrum.


Check whether your application requires authorisation under legislation other than the Radiocommunications Act 1992, such as the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 or the Telecommunications Act 1997.



Check whether any of the spectrum you require is available:


If there is no spectrum currently available in the bands you require, consider trading already licensed spectrum or entering into a third party arrangement with an existing spectrum holder.


Obtain authorisation from the ACMA to use the particular spectrum depending on how it was acquired, namely by:

  1. entering into a third party arrangement with an existing licensee

  2. ensuring your application complies with the conditions of a class licence

  3. making an application to the ACMA for an apparatus licence

  4. registering a trade of spectrum with the ACMA

  5. acquiring a spectrum licence from the ACMA via a price-based process.


Last updated: 17 December 2012