- 1Open for comment16 Apr 2019
- 2Consultation closed16 May 2019
The ACMA has concluded its consideration of reform options to enable the reconfiguration of the 900 MHz band. We are seeking to reconfigure the band to support deployment of 4G and 5G mobile broadband services. In addition, we will release additional low band spectrum in the 850 MHz band to facilitate an outcome for larger contiguous spectrum holdings.
A key issue raised in the consultation concerned the risk to continuity of service provision to consumers that could arise should an operator not be successful in gaining access to spectrum, depending on the approach the ACMA takes to reconfiguration and reallocation of the 900 MHz band. Following the consultation process, the ACMA continued to engage with stakeholders to seek additional information about the scope of this risk.
The ACMA remains of the view that the best way to achieve reconfiguration of the 900 MHz band is to undertake a band clearance and price-based allocation in conjunction with an allocation of spectrum in the 850 MHz expansion band. The decision paper attached on this page outlines the issues and reasoning behind this outcome.
We acknowledge the concerns of incumbent licensees about service continuity. In the circumstance where the government wishes to mitigate risks to consumer services by providing certainty to incumbent licensees in the band, it is open to the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts (the Minister) to achieve this objective through the use of allocation limits. In other contexts, when seeking to directly allocate spectrum under section 60 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act), the Minister’s power to set spectrum allocation limits has been considered. (See, for example, the Draft ministerial direction on unsold 700 MHz spectrum.) Such an approach could be designed to achieve outcomes referred to in other countries as ‘spectrum set-asides’.
The approach will require a number of administrative actions and legislative instruments to be made by the ACMA and the Minister in accordance with the Act. It would also require consultation with relevant stakeholders.
As such, the ACMA cannot commit to the Minister taking any particular action in any particular manner, as both the ACMA and the Minister will need to consider each action on the basis of the facts, information and circumstances at the relevant time.
To give effect to the decisions and preliminary views outlined above, the ACMA will commence work on the reallocation of the 900 MHz band and the 850 MHz expansion band. This will include consultation on a draft reallocation recommendation to the Minster in accordance with section 153 G of the Act.
Following consultations with incumbent licence holders in the relevant bands, and subject to any additional information obtained, the ACMA may make a reallocation recommendation to the Minister in accordance with section 153F of the Act. If the Minister decides to make a re-allocation declaration under section 153B of the Act, the ACMA will commence work to progress allocation of spectrum licences.
The ACMA will continue to work with stakeholders to discuss details about the implementation of the allocation.
The ACMA is consulting on approaches to reforming the 890–915/935–960 MHz band (the 900 MHz band). Optus, Telstra and Vodafone currently hold paired 8.4, 8.4 and 8.2 MHz apparatus licences respectively in this band. This configuration worked well for 2G services, but the band cannot be used efficiently for 3G and 4G services unless it is allocated in a 5 MHz-based configuration.
The ACMA looked at approaches to reconfiguring the band with two consultations in May and December 2017. Submitters raised concerns about the spectrum available for reallocation—including the role of 900 MHz in 3G regional coverage—and issues for consumers moving from 2G to 3G and 4G. We have considered options for reconfiguring the band while mitigating risks to the continuity of consumer services.
The ACMA also notes the links between the reconfiguration of the 900 MHz band and allocation of the 850 MHz expansion band (809–824/854–869 MHz). Following a review of the 803–960 MHz band in 2015, 2 x 15 MHz of spectrum that is adjacent to the existing 850 MHz spectrum licences (825–845/870–890 MHz) was identified as optimised and potentially available for use in the medium term for mobile broadband.
Due to its availability and substitutability with the 900 MHz band, there is a unique opportunity to allocate the expansion band in the same process as the 900 MHz band. Related to this is the proposal to set aside 2 x 5 MHz of the 850 MHz expansion band for Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB).
Issue for comment
The ACMA invites comments on the issues set out in the options paper or any other relevant issues. Interested stakeholders are encouraged to respond to a range of questions:
- The ACMA identified a set of outcomes to be achieved from this process—are these the appropriate outcomes? Are there any other additional outcomes that should be included in this analysis?
- Are the reform options presented in this paper appropriate, and are there any implementation issues that haven’t been identified?
- Stakeholders raised concerns that the mid-2021 clearance date will result in consumer service discontinuity. Does the proposed mid-2024 clearance date provide enough time to create an alternative pathway for the deployment of services at risk?
- Can stakeholders provide up-to-date information on consumer migration to 4G compatible handsets, including estimates of the numbers of consumers yet to migrate, and information on the timing and speed of consumer migration?
- The encumbered auction option includes an approach whereby incumbent apparatus licences and spectrum licences would potentially ‘overlap’. Do stakeholders have any concerns with this proposed approach?
- Are there any issues associated with the hybrid option that raise any concerns for stakeholders?
- Are there any other mitigation techniques to consider that support reconfiguration of the band into 5 MHz configuration whilst mitigating risks to consumer services?
- The ACMA may progress reconfiguration of 900 MHz independently of the allocation of the 850 MHz expansion band. Would doing so change the view on the optimal approach to reconfiguration?
- The ACMA is aware that due to public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) negotiations there is a request to set aside 2 x 5 MHz of spectrum for a PSMB network. While the lot location for this spectrum in the 850 MHz expansion band has not been identified, it is expected that the remaining blocks at the top or bottom of the band would be put to market. Do stakeholders have a view on the relative technical efficiency of the remaining blocks of spectrum for carrier services?
- The Draft five-year spectrum outlook 2019–23 (FYSO) forward allocation scenarios outlined the feasibility of allocating the 850 MHz expansion band and 900 MHz band at the same time as 26 GHz band, which, at the time of publication of this paper, is expected to be in Q1/2 2020–21. Do stakeholders have a view on the timing of the proposed allocations?