Australian government consulting on future licensing of 3.4GHz spectrum

28 Sep 2020

With spectrum in the 3.4GHz (3400MHz-3575MHz) band in Australia currently subject to a mix of spectrum and apparatus licensing arrangements, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC) has begun consulting on a plan to optimise and free up spectrum to support the rollout of 5G and in the process, improve regional access to broadband while still supporting current uses of the band.

In its consultation document regarding the matter, the DITRDC noted that the country’s communications minister is considering exercising powers to designate parts of the spectrum in the 3.4GHz band ‘for allocation by spectrum licences with respect to specified areas’. As per the draft designation notice, spectrum licensing has been proposed as follows: the 3400MHz–3425MHz and 3492.5MHz–3542.5MHz portions of the band to be designated for licensing in metropolitan areas (i.e. the regional capitals of Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney); 3400MHz–3425MHz for the major regional centres Albury, Ballarat and Bendigo, Cairns, Hobart, Launceston, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Townsville; 3492.5MHz–3510MHz for Ballarat, Bendigo and Toowoomba; and 3400MHz–3475MHz and 3510MHz–3542.5MHz for ‘specified regional areas’. Meanwhile, the minister is said to be considering making the designation notice at the conclusion of the ‘restack’ of regional apparatus licences in the band, as per proposals put forward by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in November 2019.

For its part, the ACMA has said that designating the frequencies and areas as proposed would align with the approach it had previously proposed, which it noted would include: the conversion of NBN Co’s apparatus licences to spectrum licences in metropolitan and defined regional areas to facilitate the defragmenting of Optus and NBN Co’s 3.4GHz spectrum holdings; excising urban areas of NBN Co’s 3.4GHz licence holdings and investigating options to make them available for use by other wireless broadband operators; and allocating more of the band for spectrum licensing in regional areas, optimised for use by wide-area broadband deployments such as those by NBN Co and mobile network operators.

With the DITRDC now seeking stakeholder views on its proposed approach the licensing and on the designation notice, it has said any feedback received will ‘inform advice to the Minister on how to proceed’.