The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has recently released the five-year spectrum outlook 2019-23 (FYSO) outlining its annual work plan for the coming financial year, including its proposed arrangements to support the rollout of 5G services across Australia.
To facilitate the effective use of 5G, governments and regulators have the responsibility of ensuring that there is timely access to the right amount and type of affordable spectrum. Spectrum is integral to the delivery of telecommunications services and, as the industry prepares for the shift to 5G, valuing this scarce asset has never been more important.
Speaking at the CommsDay Melbourne Congress on 10 October 2019, Creina Chapman, Acting ACMA Chair, addressed the range of trends driving demand for spectrum both in Australia and internationally:
"In particular, there is increased appetite for wireless broadband, both mobile and fixed, particularly in the context of 5G services, ongoing commercialisation of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, advances in broadcasting technology, rapid innovations in satellite technologies, and new approaches to spectrum sharing."
As outlined in the FYSO, the ACMA has undertaken extensive planning activity to support the deployment of 5G services in Australia.
What is 5G and why should we care about it?
Over the last couple of decades, mobile networks have undergone a remarkable evolution, resulting in new mobile technologies and better experiences for consumers.
5G is the next generation of wireless broadband and is set to hit the market on the horizon of 2020. Compared with the current 4G technology, 5G promises faster network speeds, lower latency and more simultaneous connections.
With the ACMA getting ready for the arrival of 5G, it is a good time to reflect on the status of 5G deployment in Australia and consider the impact it may have on the Australian market.
For further information about the deployment of 5G networks, click here.
The ACMA's major planning decisions supporting 5G
In the FYSO, the ACMA acknowledges its commitment to ensuring Australia is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this next generation of wireless broadband.
Unlike 4G, 5G will use spectrum across an unprecedentedly wide range of frequencies, including "high band" spectrum (above 6GHz), known as the millimetre wave (mmWave) bands. Millimetre waves have a greater capacity for data than lower frequency bands as they allow for extremely high bandwidth. Therefore, as recognised in the FYSO, mmWave technology is a natural fit for upcoming 5G networks.
Given the variety of spectrum that is required to support 5G, the FYSO takes into consideration a number of planning arrangements to maximise the efficient allocation and use of mmWave spectrum.
mmWave spectrum licensing
In August 2019, shared access mmWave spectrum under class licensing arrangements in the 60GHz band were made available by the ACMA. The variations to the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2015 were a result of industry consultation to update and expand 60GHz (57-71GHz) arrangements for data communications systems, including 5G. Specifically, the variations were to:
- add the 66-71GHz frequency band; and
- update existing arrangements in the 57-66GHz band.
Along with the ACMA's efforts to make mmWave spectrum available for wireless broadband, the FYSO recognises that: "Achieving more efficient configuration and use of bands that are already licensed for wireless broadband is a vital adjunct to the clearance and reallocation of new bands to address rising demand for wireless broadband."
Notwithstanding the ACMA's planning currently underway, it continues to monitor several other mmWave bands for possible replanning for 5G services, including the 26GHz band.
Future of the 26GHz band
The 26GHz band (24-27GHz) is an immediate focus for the ACMA. This band is a member of the "high band" spectrum family, supporting faster speeds and lower latency. It therefore supports the rapid deployment of 5G.
For 26GHz, outcomes of the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference will have a major impact on the ability of mobile operators to effectively make use of the band.
On 25 October 2019, the Federal Government declared that it will auction 2.4GHz of essential spectrum in the 26GHz band to facilitate the rollout of 5G services across Australia. The Radiocommunications (Spectrum Re-allocation - 26GHz Band) Declaration 2019 is consistent with the ACMA's broader plan to make mmWave spectrum available for 5G technologies in Australia.
For more information about the 26GHz spectrum auction, click here.
To meet the increasing spectrum demand to support the deployment of 5G, there is a growing need for the ACMA to explore more dynamic spectrum arrangements, including spectrum sharing.
According to the ACMA, spectrum sharing is a "key tool in maximising the benefits achieved through the use of the spectrum resource".
In Part one of the FYSO, the ACMA introduces a number of new approaches to spectrum sharing, including the concept of "non-traditional spectrum sharing". This form of spectrum sharing involves dynamic spectrum access (DSA) technologies that are able to make decisions on which spectrum can be accessed at a given time and location (without the need of a licence).
However, while spectrum sharing holds potential, the ACMA acknowledges that it requires some degree of compromise between multiple spectrum uses and/or users (individual licensees) accessing the shared spectrum.
As a spectrum regulator, the ACMA will need to ensure that benefits provided by these new concepts do not undermine the maximum utility of spectrum. This will include ensuring that sharing plays a complementary role to spectrum licensing and that the appropriate sharing framework is selected.
The FYSO notes that the ACMA will continue engaging in discussions with stakeholders on how new approaches to sharing might improve the management of and access to spectrum.
What is the future of 5G?
While there is still a degree of uncertainty in terms of what 5G networks will allow us to do, there is no doubt that 5G will be able to offer a greater range of capabilities than any mobile technology generation that has preceded it.
If we have learnt anything from the FYSO, it is that the dawn of the 5G era has arrived and, with the support of the ACMA, Australia is in a good position to harness the opportunities this next generation of wireless broadband has to offer.