Government opts for direct allocation of early access 5G spectrum

12 May 2020

Following the cancellation of the planned auction of short-term, early access rights to 3.5GHz spectrum for 5G earlier this month due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the radio spectrum management unit of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has announced a direct allocation will instead be undertaken. Offers will be made of 60MHz to Spark, 60MHz to 2degrees and 40MHz to wholesaler Dense Air. Vodafone NZ, which launched commercial 5G mobile services in December 2019, already has access to the spectrum directly and through deals with others.

Responding to the announcement, Spark CEO Jolie Hodson said the allocation would enable significant investment in 5G infrastructure across the country over the coming year, which will play a critical role in New Zealand’s response to and recovery from COVID-19. ‘Securing 3.5GHz spectrum was critical for the rollout of a full suite of 5G services, so we would like to acknowledge the government for facilitating the allocation, which will enable us to proceed with our planned 5G rollout at pace,’ she added. Spark plans to activate 5G sites in a number of major cities and regions over the next year and is keen for the government to accelerate the timeline for longer-term spectrum auction, which is currently scheduled for November 2022.

2degrees chief executive Mark Aue said the allocation ‘makes sense’ but stressed the immediate priority is to ensure customers continue to have access to reliable 4G connectivity. ‘At the same time, access to 5G spectrum will allow 2degrees to continue its 5G network planning and site acquisition so it can build and test the technology. This will provide time for 5G uses cases to develop, and initial deployments, in advance of long-term spectrum rights that will power national 5G services from late 2022,’ he added.