Demand drivers | ACMA

Demand drivers

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This article is taken from the ACMA's Five-year Spectrum Outlook 2013-2017, published in September 2013. 

The Five-year spectrum outlook 2013–2017  is available for download as an e-mag, PDF and word document here. The Table of contents and links to individual sections of the report are available here.

3.5.1  Accelerating pace of change

There continues to be ever-increasing developments and change in technology and services. These changes are largely driven by the information technology revolution and continuing scientific innovation. New and innovative ways to use spectrum are continually being developed, which means that there is demand to provide spectrum for an increasing range of technologies and applications and greater potential for gains in spectral efficiency. Benefits are likely to accrue if the spectrum management regime enables technologies capable of sharing spectrum to be deployed where appropriate.

3.5.2  Emerging technologies

For some time, there has been a focus on the development of emerging technologies, such as dynamic spectrum access (DSA) and cognitive radio (CR). These technologies have been considered as a means to provide access to highly congested spectrum through technological sharing. The ACMA views the development and deployment of these technologies as evolutionary rather than revolutionary and the full realisation of the possible benefits of these technologies remains unclear.

3.5.3  Customer demand for high data rate applications

The growing communications needs of the public and industry mean that more and more information has to be transmitted in as short a time as possible. This is shown in the trend of exponentially growing data rates, which often corresponds to an increase in system bandwidth and occupied spectrum. This trend in data rate growth continues despite the enhancements in spectral efficiency normally associated with the emergence of new technologies.

3.5.4  Government demand for spectrum

As with the broader spectrum user community, the dual challenge of mobility and increased data bandwidth will see the demand for spectrum by government agencies increase. Importantly, in some cases, government use of the spectrum is substantially different to use by the broader community. There is a strong emphasis on use of the spectrum to support remote sensing applications, such as radar and passive Earth observations.[1]

In terms of bandwidth used, the Department of Defence is the largest single user (government or non-government) of spectrum in Australia and therefore has a strong influence on spectrum demand generally. Under Australian legislative arrangements, there are certain bands, or particular services within them, that are designated to be used principally for the purposes of defence.

Federal, state and territory governments are also significant users of spectrum. This sector, which includes law enforcement, defence, security and emergency services agencies, has indicated a need for sufficient capacity to meet peak demand in major emergencies and adequate protection to maintain high quality of service, as well as increasing requirements for both interoperability and data communications. Other government organisations that have unique spectrum requirements include railway authorities, utilities administrators and scientific organisations.

3.5.5  Environmental factors

These are also environmental factors that can prevent or make frequency assignments difficult for some users in certain frequency bands or geographical areas. These include spectrum congestion, antenna sizes (that in some cases need to be significant to meet certain performance levels), as well as demographics and terrain (which can limit services to particular areas that quickly become congested).

3.5.6  Frequency-dependent propagation characteristics

Propagation characteristics can drive demand for particular parts of the spectrum. Lower frequencies generally propagate further, but higher frequencies allow higher bandwidths and hence higher data rates. The propagation characteristics of high- frequency (HF)[2] spectrum allow over-the-horizon communications using ionospheric reflection; very high frequency (VHF)[3] and ultra high frequency (UHF)[4] spectrum suit both long-range, line-of-sight (LOS) communications and mobile non-LOS applications by diffracting into valleys and over some terrain; and microwave frequencies above 1 GHz suit fixed LOS applications and satellite communications. However, rain attenuation can be a problem for frequencies above about 10 GHz.

3.5.7  Competition

The allocation of radiocommunications licences is subject to provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974, which prohibit acquisitions that result in a substantial lessening of competition. The benefits of greater market competition are numerous and include greater choice and lower prices for users, and more efficient and innovative markets. This means that spectrum management can often involve making spectrum access arrangements for a number of operators who can occupy more spectrum rather than taking an approach that involves a single monopoly provider. However, this must be balanced against commercial and technical viability.

3.5.8  Economic climate

Use of the radiofrequency spectrum is often associated with the significant investment required to establish business, infrastructure and equipment. As the general economic environment will have a significant impact on the confidence of industry stakeholders to engage in such investments and the corresponding risks, it will also affect the demand for and the use of spectrum.

In addition to the above general factors that can drive spectrum demand, there is a range of drivers that comes specifically from the needs of end users. These needs range from those that are personal and are part of everyday life, and those that facilitate the operations of business and industry, to those that relate to a higher level enhancement of the overall knowledge, wellbeing and safety of the community.

Some of the main end-user needs are listed below.

3.5.9  Access to broadband

Access to and use of spectrum is a key enabler for participation in the digital economy.[5] The rapid expansion of mobile data applications, and the increasing volume of data that is downloaded, is applying significant pressure on existing spectrum availability.

In Figure 3.1, the ACMA outlines its expectations for data and spectrum demand through to 2020, as outlined in the ACMA discussion paper Towards 2020—Future spectrum requirements for mobile broadband. The blue bar chart represents data demand based on industry assumptions to 2015 and ACMA assumptions trending to 2020. The red curve is the ACMA’s anticipated level of spectrum demand to meet the needs of mobile broadband.


Figure 3.1 Expectations for spectrum demand and traffic out to 2020

 Figure 3.1 Expectations for spectrum demand and traffic out to 2020

Source: ACMA

Demand for broadband is influenced by technology, spectrum availability and network topology. Responding to pressure on spectrum capacity is influenced by actions or activities undertaken by both the regulator and industry (see Figure 3.2). For example, mobile carriers have responded to increased consumer demand for wireless access, with investment in mobile network capacity and performance through the roll out of 4G services and the expansion of Wi-Fi networks. The ACMA’s release of the digital dividend spectrum will assist in meeting mobile carriers anticipated requirements for spectrum.


Figure 3.2 Demand topology

 Figure 3.2 Demand topology


The expanding spectrum requirements for mobile services are being considered at both the domestic and international levels. One of the key issues at WRC-15 is Agenda item 1.1, which concerns the availability of spectrum for mobile broadband applications over the next 10 to 15 years. In addition to this, the ACMA is undertaking work to assess the economic impact of mobile broadband technology on the Australian economy and society. This work will increase and inform the ACMA’s understanding of the highest value use of spectrum, as well as the economic implications of regulatory decisions.

Australia is a ‘mature’ user of mobile technologies with fast uptake of new and emerging services. The ACMA expects that data demand will increase exponentially as a result of this trend until about 2018. As demand in mobile technology begins to slow, the ACMA expects an increase in demand for machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to sustain the exponential nature of this demand curve through to 2020.

Figure 3.3 shows the number of spectrum access records throughout Australia. As can be seen, usage is high in the capital cities and moderate in major regional areas. This will change over time.



Figure 3.3 Number of spectrum access records throughout Australia

3.5.10    Choice of delivery model

Wireless technology can expand the options available to both consumers and network service providers seeking to deliver high data rate applications to their customers. For example, the advantages of using wireless technology over wireline and cable options to provide broadband access (as discussed above) make wireless access services (WAS) attractive to large operators, who typically provide a wide range of services on a national or wide area basis. It also gives opportunities for smaller operators to compete in localised markets providing niche services. As a result, wireless technology may both reduce the cost of serving some areas and increase competition.

3.5.11    Connectivity

Before last-mile delivery, there must be interconnection between the service provider and the local exchanges. In Australia, there are many areas where wired infrastructure is not a viable option for these links, due to difficulties with terrain and infrastructure costs. Consequently, fixed links—mainly point-to-point (P-P)—will continue to play an important role in connectivity. Fixed links also play a vital role in communications delivery for numerous spectrum users. This includes government networks, emergency services, utilities and mining operators. These links also  act as a backhaul enabler for networks, including mobile telephony and satellite. As the spectrum requirements of these users and services grows, so too do the spectrum requirements for fixed links to support and complement them.

3.5.12    Mobility

The delivery of services by radio has several attractions in comparison to other delivery methods nominally providing access ‘anywhere, anytime’ for nomadic and mobile voice and broadband services. These favourable characteristics of WAS may be expected to fuel demand for these services. They may also be a particularly strong driver in metropolitan areas, despite the generally adequate provision of wireline solutions. Other factors, such as the increasing requirement for mobility both in the workforce and socially, drives the demand for spectrum for WAS.

3.5.13    Automation, sensing and monitoring

Increasingly, automation, sensing and monitoring is occurring on a large scale. For example, mining companies in the Pilbara region of Western Australia have implemented communication systems to automate, sense and monitor some of their operations, such as trucks, drill rigs and iron-ore trains. Remote monitoring of weather information, environmental sensing, automation of household appliances, and vehicle monitoring systems are further examples of ubiquitous, automatically networked and interconnected devices.

3.5.14    Remote control

Closely related to the automation of processes is the remote control of devices and instruments. Automation helps to reduce the use of human resources and can remove humans from dangerous situations and inhospitable environments. One of the most significant examples of this is the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Remote control also can be used with smaller scale applications. For example, garage door openers and radio-controlled toys have become a part of everyday life.

3.5.15    Navigation and traffic control

Smaller scale applications include civilian GPS positioning and navigation and automotive radars for intelligent cruise control systems.[6] Larger scale applications for navigation and surveillance of aircraft and ships include ground-based, airborne and shipborne radars, automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADSB) and GPS augmentation systems (including capability for landing guidance).

3.5.16    Networking

The removal of wires from buildings facilitates network maintenance and provides flexible network arrangements. The most common example of this is the use of Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands. Future demand is expected to be met by employing ultra wideband (UWB) technology. Networking also plays a major part in the automation of processes using sensing and control (see above).

[1] Passive services involve only the reception of electromagnetic radiation for their operation, as opposed to active services, which also include stations intended to transmit radiocommunication signals.

[2] HF is the range 3–30 MHz.

[3] VHF is the range 30–300 MHz.

[4] UHF is the frequency range 300–3000 MHz; however, the term is generally only used for frequencies below 1000 MHz.

[5] The concept of the digital economy describes the range of social and economic activities that are enabled by fixed and wireless platforms which enable access to the internet.

[6] Global Positioning System, a US satellite positioning system.

Last updated: 19 February 2016