Wireless access services future needs | ACMA

Wireless access services future needs

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.

In February 2006, the ACMA began a dialogue with stakeholders in order to stimulate discussion and collect information to gauge the demand for future WAS and the associated spectrum support requirements. The WAS consultation identified a need for more spectrum, and as a result, the 2.5 GHz and 3.6 GHz were identified as bands that could be made available in the short to medium term.

WAS encompasses the variety of ways that telecommunications carriers, internet service providers or other service providers deliver a radio connection to an end user from a core network. This is usually a public network such as a public switched telephone network, the internet or a local/wide area network. WAS covers a range of other terms such as:

> fixed wireless access (FWA)

> mobile wireless access (MWA)

> nomadic wireless access (NWA).

Stakeholder demand for access to spectrum for WAS is increasing as the level of government, business and consumer access to ubiquitous high speed information gains greater momentum at both the domestic and international level. New and emerging technologies offer improved data rates and spectral efficiency. However, the success of these new and emerging technologies will largely depend on the availability of spectrum.

This puts the ACMA in a complex position. Despite the use of improved spectrum utilisation techniques or new technologies, it is likely that more spectrum will need to be made available to meet increasing demand. This demand will also need to take into account legislative expectation to ensure that spectrum is allocated to its highest value use and is used efficiently. To this end, the ACMA is continuously reviewing spectrum trends to ensure that spectrum use delivers maximum benefits to industry and the community.

The ACMA continued this dialogue in 2011 by embarking on the mobile broadband project. The first discussion paper, Towards 2020—Future spectrum requirements for mobile broadband, focused on the need to identify the baseline spectrum requirements for future mobile broadband services while taking into account the needs of incumbent services, and as well as the need to consider strategies that could be deployed to reduce the pressure on other bands. The ACMA also released a summary and initial response to submissions in January 2013.

WRC-15 will also consider the issue of spectrum requirements and potential additional frequency bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and mobile broadband services under Agenda item 1.1. This will influence domestic planning for these services in the short to medium term.

Due to the ever-changing nature of WAS, the ACMA has undertaken to continue to keep stakeholders updated on the progress of making additional spectrum available for WAS, including mobile, nomadic and fixed, through this chapter of the Outlook.

5.9.1 Current spectrum use

A total of 890 MHz of spectrum is allocated, or planned to be allocated, to WAS services in Australia, though not available in all regions and the spectrum used is limited to below 4 GHz. Frequency bands up to 4 GHz are in high demand for WAS applications because they offer advantages that cannot be achieved at higher frequencies such as coverage, power and form factor.

Table 5.5 details the spectrum bands that have been designated or allocated providing mobile, nomadic and fixed services in a mixture of apparatus and spectrum licensing.

Table 5.5 Spectrum bands that provide for WAS services




Current usage

694–820 MHz[1]

2 x 45 MHz

Spectrum licence

Analog/digital TV to be cleared to realise digital dividend

825–845 and
870–890 MHz

2 x 20 MHz

Spectrum licence

Mobile telephony (3G—WCDMA/HSPA)

890–915 and
935–960 MHz

2 x 25 MHz


Mobile telephony (2G—GSM900 and 3G—WCDMA/HSPA)

1710–1785 and

1805–1880 MHz

2 x 75 MHz

Spectrum licence

Mobile telephony (GSM1800). Licensed for Australia-wide use (restricted to the lower 2x15 MHz in regional areas)

1900–1920 MHz

20 MHz

20 MHz

Spectrum licence


3G services—licensed in capital cities only

Broadband—licensed in regional and remote areas only

1920–1980 and

2110–2170 MHz

2 x 60 MHz

2 x 40 MHz/

2 x 60 MHz

Spectrum licence


3G mobile telephony and broadband. Licensed in capital cities and regional areas (restricted to the upper 20 MHz)

3G mobile telephony and broadband. Licensed in regional (2 x 40 MHz) and remote areas (2 x 60 MHz)

2302–2400 MHz

98 MHz

Spectrum licence

Broadband—licensed in capital cities and regional areas.

2500–2690 MHz[2]

2 x 70 MHz

50 MHz

Spectrum licence

Spectrum licence

Band currently under review to allow for new services such as mobile telephony and wireless broadband in 2 x 70 MHz.

Technical framework underpinning ENG operation in 50 MHz.

3425–3442.5 and
3475–3492.5 MHz

2 x 17.5 MHz

Spectrum licence

Fixed wireless access, broadband. Licensed in capital cities and major regional centres.

3442.5–3475 and
3542.5–3575 MHz

2 x 33.5 MHz

Spectrum licence

Broadband—licensed in capital cities and regional areas.

3575–3700 MHz

Up to 30 MHz


Fixed wireless access, broadband to coordinate with fixed links and Earth stations. Licensed in regional and remote areas.

5.9.2 2013–2017

Issues affecting spectrum demand

The next five years in the WAS space will be important for securing spectrum for the future for mobile, nomadic and fixed networks as congestion continues. The ACMA is working closely with its international partners in the ITU and APG, operators and equipment vendors and engaging with stakeholders to ensure that the ACMA can make spectrum available as quickly and as feasibly as possible. It should be noted that Australia is a technology adopter and traditionally relies on economies of scale for the deployment of large scale networks and equipment.

International planning activities for WAS

The consideration of possible bands to support future WAS is being undertaken on a worldwide basis by international regulatory agencies. Current allocation activities show that the focus is on allocation of spectrum associated with the digital dividend provided in respective countries and the reallocation of spectrum to support the deployment of national broadband infrastructure.

A number of regulatory authorities have released consultation papers and plans indicating that they will seek to make further spectrum available for WAS after the allocation of the digital dividend. A common theme is the need to identify additional globally harmonised spectrum for mobile and will be a key focus of WRC-15 under Agenda Item 1.1.

Baseline demand for WAS spectrum in Australia

The demand for mobile, nomadic and fixed wireless access service spectrum in Australia is continuing to grow (see Figure 5.9). This shows the take-up of internet services by technology type, based on the Internet Activity Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in December 2012. WAS for internet services made up 49.7 per cent of all connections for the December 2012 period, compared with 18.3 per cent in the same period in 2008, and has overtaken digital subscriber line services as the main technology for accessing the internet.

Figure 5.9 Internet activity survey

Figure 5.9 Internet activity survey

As a result, demand for additional spectrum in the market to support WAS has been increasing, but this is tempered somewhat by the evolution of technologies including HSPA and LTE. For example, additional efficiencies are now being realised in the 1800 MHz band with the transition from GSM to LTE and aggregation of spectrum into larger contiguous bandwidths.

ACMA analysis shows that by 2015, an additional 130–150 MHz of spectrum is required to support mobile access services, and by 2020, an additional 150 MHz beyond that identified for 2015 will be needed. This totals 300 MHz of spectrum that needs to be identified and released prior to 2020.

The ACMA's ability to make further spectrum available is constrained by the international environment. Because Australia is a traditionally an early-adopter of technology, it is common for the ACMA to make planning and regulatory arrangements for bands that are being accepted and implemented in larger markets such as Europe, Asia and the Americas.

For this reason, the ACMA is actively involved in the ITU and APG decision making process, especially when it comes to the identification of WAS spectrum. This was evident in the ACMA's involvement in achieving consensus in the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity Wireless Group (AWG) for a Region 3 700 MHz band plan and among broadcasters and the mobile industry with respect to the technical framework and development of emission masks for the digital dividend spectrum in Australia.

5.9.3 The ACMA's proposed approaches

The ACMA is continuing its dialogue with stakeholders to release additional spectrum for WAS where demand outstrips supply, but is cognisant of the needs of incumbent services and must often satisfy their requirements, either by identifying alternative bands or other measures.

The responses and information received in response to the mobile broadband paper regarding emerging technologies is assisting the ACMA in its consideration of issues regarding spectrum utilisation and efficiency generally.

Candidate bands

The ACMA identified several candidate bands in the Towards 2020 paper that it views as bands suitable for future mobile allocation. Stakeholder comments to the Towards 2020 paper provided some consensus for some bands, but noted that many bands will be difficult to share with, or clear for, mobile services. The following paragraphs briefly detail those bands where some consensus among stakeholders was identified.

850 MHz 'expansion' band—FDD spectrum from the range 806–825 MHz paired with 851–870 MHz could potentially be released to support mobile broadband services. This would expand the existing allocation at 825–845 MHz paired with 870–890 MHz used to provide mobile telephony services. Parts of the 850 MHz 'expansion' band are heavily utilised by services including land mobile and fixed services. This issue is being considered as part of the ACMA's review of the 803–960 MHz band discussed in section 4.3.1.

1.5 GHz mobile band—the ACMA believe that 2x35 MHz (1427.9–1462.9 MHz and 1475.9–1510.9 MHz) of FDD spectrum, or 40 MHz (1452–1492 MHz) of unpaired mobile downlink (UMD) spectrum, could potentially be released from the 1.5 GHz mobile band (1427.9–1510.9 MHz). Stakeholders noted that the impact on incumbent fixed services could be significant and alternative options and a transition plan would need to be developed before this band could be reallocated for different services. The ACMA intends to undertake preliminary work to determine the impact on aeronautical telemetry services and the DRCS. The outcomes of this work, along with international consideration of this band, are necessary considerations for the future planning arrangements for this band.

The ACMA released Planning for Mobile Broadband in the 1.5 GHz mobile band in May 2012 to gather further information on these and other issues related to the potential use of the 1.5 GHz mobile band for mobile broadband services.

3.3 GHz band (33003400 MHz)—This band has been highlighted by the IEEE for use by IMT-Advanced technologies. Currently the band is identified as AUS101A spectrum and will be used by Defence to support next generation naval radar systems. For this reason, the ACMA believe that this band may be able to support fixed or nomadic access services in regional and remote areas, as well as some metropolitan areas given appropriate sharing studies are conducted with Defence.

3.4 GHz band (34003600 MHz)—The current arrangements in this band support the operation of apparatus and spectrum licensing arrangements for a number of services including:

> fixed P-P services

> fixed point-to-multipoint services

> Earth receive

> spectrum-licensed services.

The ACMA intends to review the current licensing and technical arrangements underpinning this band. For example, proposed FDD technologies require a 100 MHz duplex split in order to operate in this band, but the 3425–3442.5/3475–3492.5 MHz sub-band imposes a 50 MHz duplex split on FDD equipment.

Bands above 4.2 GHz—Frequency bands above 4.2 GHz are emerging as potentially suitable for short-range, high-capacity mobile services. These bands may be useful for high bandwidth mobile applications if spread-spectrum and diversity techniques are used as well as some fixed and nomadic applications.

The primary benefit of considering bands greater than 4.2 GHz is to support the rollout of infrastructure which has the potential to increase spectral efficiency by offloading capacity from macro network environments to personal networks. Femtocells are examples of these types of technologies. The ACMA has not yet identified any bands above 4.2 GHz for mobile broadband services or technologies, but recommends operators and industry work together with the ACMA to identify globally harmonised bands in the lead up to WRC-15.

5.9.4 WRC-15 Agenda items

The following WRC-15 Agenda items are relevant to WAS:

> Agenda item 1.1—to consider additional spectrum allocations to the mobile service on a primary basis and identification of additional frequency bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and related regulatory provisions, to facilitate the development of terrestrial mobile broadband applications, in accordance with Resolution 233 (WRC-12).

> Agenda item 1.3—to review and revise Resolution 646 (Rev.WRC-12) for broadband PPDR, in accordance with Resolution 648 (WRC-12).

5.9.5 Beyond 2017

The ACMA will continue its dialogue with stakeholders aimed at releasing additional spectrum to market in order to support mobile services. But the ACMA notes that incumbent services, as well as the fixed and nomadic WAS, need to be considered.

Discussion papers on specific candidate bands, identified in the Towards 2020 paper, will be released in the coming years, including the 850 MHz 'expansion' band as part of the review of the 803–960 MHz band.

The outcomes of the WRC-15 will underlie the future direction of WAS globally, with a focus on harmonisation leading to greater economies of scale in all regions. The ACMA will work closely with stakeholders and with the wider regulatory community to ensure that Australia's interests are satisfied.

[1] This spectrum is commonly referred to as the digital dividend.

[2] This band is planned for FDD technologies to support IMT services. The mid-band gap will be converted to a spectrum licence for broadcasting purposes.

Last updated: 28 September 2016