The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) seeks views by 27 March 2020 from parties interested in the allocation and use of the spectrum in the 26-28 gigahertz (GHz) band. The spectrum is to be used for 5G technology.

Organisations planning to utilise 5G technology may be interested in the consultation.

For example, an organisation may be interested in whether spectrum allocation and licensing aligns with the 5G plans the organisation is making. In particular, the organisation might wish to know that its planned use of 5G technology will be covered by an accessible licence.

It may also be important for the organisation to know that it can gain access to sufficient spectrum to compete effectively with other market participants. The issues raised by the ACCC will be of interest not only to traditional telecommunications operators but also to a broader range of businesses looking to participate in 5G rollouts and related services.

Why the consultation?

The ACCC is conducting the consultation in connection with a request from the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. The Minister has sought advice on whether allocation limits should be imposed in the 26 GHz spectrum auction and whether there are any potential competition issues associated with the apparatus licensing regime across the entire 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands.

Other spectrum is already being used for 5G technology. However, the 26 GHz band is the first high-band spectrum identified internationally for 5G deployment to be allocated in Australia.

The ACCC's assessment is to be based on:

  • Promotion of competition in downstream markets for the long-term interests of end-users and to encourage investment in infrastructure and innovation.

  • Supporting deployment of 5G technologies.

  • Promoting economically efficient allocation and use of spectrum, to maximise the public value from spectrum, including mitigating the risk of spectrum monopolisation, under-utilisation and very asymmetric spectrum holdings.

To conduct its assessment, the ACCC is interested in what uses of 5G are proposed.

Recap on spectrum licensing regime

An organisation seeking to work out if they wish to make a submission should consider where their proposed use would fit under the spectrum licensing regime.

Radiocommunications spectrum is a regulated scarce resource. A main reason for this is to ensure that one device does not cause interference impeding another device.

Spectrum is licensed for use in different ways, namely:

  • Spectrum licences are issued for a specific frequency band and geographic period. They can be allocated for up to 15 years. In recent years, spectrum licences have usually been issued by auction with limits on the size of a band that can be allocated to any one bidder. There is strong competition between telecommunications operators for allocation of spectrum licences as they seek to acquire bandwidth to run their next generation of services, including services using 5G technology.

  • An apparatus licence allows operation of transmitters and receivers covered by the licence in a particular location. The licence must be applied for and fees apply. An apparatus licence can be granted for up to 5 years. Many organisations looking to use 5G technology in their business such as through internet of things (IoT) devices, will need to seek apparatus licences for their transmitters and / or receivers. If too many devices are operating in the one area, that risks causing interference and impeding the effective operation of devices. Accordingly, it will be important for organisations to know they can obtain licences in required locations. Organisations interested in using 5G technology should monitor for when the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) releases further details on the timing, technical, licensing and other arrangements for apparatus licences in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands.

  • Class licences enable parties to use permitted devices within the scope of the licence without the need to pay fees, apply for a licence or register (e.g., there is the Low Interference Potential Devices Class Licence 2015 that authorises the use of low interference devices including those using wifi technology). The ACMA has been reviewing updating class licences to accommodate 5G technology devices.

The consultation paper contains details on current spectrum licence holders and licensing arrangements for the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands.

What are the relevant markets?

The ACCC has identified the following relevant markets for the consultation:

  • The national retail mobile services market. This market encompasses services that are supplied to a mobile device.

  • The fixed broadband market which consists of both fixed line and wireless service providers, including satellite operators, who supply broadband services to a customer's premises where the receiving device is stationary.

  • The enterprise market. This market is identified as including traditional mobile network operators (MNOs), infrastructure providers, fixed wireless operators and enterprises.

For the consultation, the enterprise market could raise an array of different issues given the diversity of market participants and broad range of contemplated 5G technology uses. The enterprise market is also seen as a developing market, so it could be challenging to identify all relevant issues.

Additionally, unlike the participants in the other 2 markets, the enterprise market will include parties not traditionally seen as participants in the telecommunications or radiocommunications markets (e.g., organisations looking to develop a new aspect of their business using 5G technology, such as businesses involved in smart transport systems, automation of different processes and machines or cloud gaming). These organisations may raise different issues to traditional operators.

Points to consider for submissions

Points for an organisation planning to use 5G technology to consider in making a submission include the following:

  • What spectrum would the 5G technology use and in what locations? The consultation concerns the spectrum in the 26-28 GHz band. As there is spectrum in other bands that can be used for 5G technology, it is important to check the relevant band.

  • How would the organisation be authorised to use the spectrum? In other words, for the organisation's contemplated use of 5G technology, does the organisation expect to bid for spectrum, be authorised to use spectrum by a spectrum licence holder, acquire an apparatus licence or rely on a class licence?

  • What other 5G technologies will wish to use the same spectrum in the same location? This may prove very interesting, as the parties competing for use of spectrum may be from different industries. They may be competing for the same spectrum but not operating in the same market. These considerations may be particularly relevant to the enterpise market.

Details about the consultation can be found here.

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