ACMA lays down timeline for 700MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum reallocation

The communications and media regulator has proposed a timeline for auctioning off the two bands of spectrum and is seeking public commentary on the issue

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has mapped out its timeline for the auctioning off the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands of spectrum.

As part of the analogue to digital television broadcasting switchover, ACMA will restack the 700MHz spectrum for digital services. Telco providers have been eyeing this band which is suitable for 4G LTE mobile network rollouts. Meanwhile, public safety organisation want a piece of that spectrum saved for an emergency services mobile broadband network.

The 2.5GHz band has not been used by television broadcasters but there will be a need to reorganise that spectrum since it has been employed for electronic news gathering (ENG) services which will still require some of the spectrum.

These bands will be auctioned off together and apparatus licencees – including broadcast services - currently on these spectrums will have to clear out by the end of the reallocation period.

“Both bands are suitable for providing LTE services,” ACMA digital transition division general manager, Giles Tanner, said at the regulator’s RadComms 2011 event in Sydney. “Spectrum in the 700MHz band can provide coverage over a wide area and with high building penetration [while] the 2.5GHz band is suited to provide high data capacity in more densely populated, high demand areas.

“Stakeholder preferences were also a key driver for this decision.”

AMCA noted it is ready to take formal steps in auctioning spectrum licences in the both bands and will do so after a declaration by the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy.

A document of ACMA’s draft reallocation recommendation was released today and the regulator has invited comments on the proposal.

700MHz spectrum

Hotly contested and described by Tanner as the “waterfront property of the telecommunications spectrum world”, the 700MHz will begin its reallocation process by around 2 November this year.

Auctions will begin by the end of 2012 and the reallocation deadline is on December 31, 2013.

Reallocation period will run until December 31, 2014.

ACMA’s decision to sell-off the 703-748MHz and the 758-803MHz bands in 45MHz blocks are for the purpose of conforming with international standards as well as to facilitate FDD technology. FDD-LTE requires two bands for two way data transfer. (Learn the difference between FDD-LTE and TDD-LTE here)

“It facilitating uniform technology standards allowing Australia to join a larger market so we can enjoy the ‘economies of scale’ that it offers,” Tanner said. “It also enables greater international roaming capacity for mobile communications and portability of equipment in general.”

He also noted FDD technology is supported by equipment manufacturers internationally.

ACMA is recommending a nationwide rollout of the repurposed spectrum with the exception of the Radio Quiet Zone (RQZ) in the middle of Western Australia which has been saved for development of new radio astronomy technology.

2.5GHz spectrum

As previously mentioned, the 2.5GHz spectrum has been used by ENG services. These services will be pushed mid-band gap between the 2500MHz-2570MHz and 2620MHz-2690MHz bands, which will be auctioned off in two 70MHz blocks.

ENG apparatus licences will be converted to spectrum licences.

ACMA’s reason for choosing those frequencies to auction off was based on study of the European telecommunications model.

“This band has been identified internationally for wireless access services (WAS) with an unusually high degree of international harmonisation around it,” Tanner said. “The value of the band is increasing.”

The 2.5GHz reallocation timeline is similar to that of the 700MHz band with the exception of a special arrangement for Perth.

Some ENG services will have to run in the city until 2016 so while the spectrum will be deployed nationally by 2014, availability for Perth has been pushed back to 2016.

The RQZ is, again, excised from the rollout.