5G is still at least a couple of years away, but Australia’s telco regulator needs to think ahead. The ACCC has said it wants to apportion spectrum for 5G mobile networks to telcos like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for maximum advantage to the public, rather than for those carriers to bid on spectrum to inconvenience their competitors.
In past years, the ACCC has sought to stop any one carrier possessing too large a portion of 3G and 4G mobile spectrum — something ACCC chair Rod Sims called “dominance” in his recent speech to the RadComms communications conference — but that approach may change completely when it comes to 5G.
Rather than thinking in particular bands, the ACCC wants to consider spectrum holdings holistically across individual carriers and all telcos collectively. Auctions have previously been ACCC’s go-to for selling spectrum — with the idea that the companies that want it most will pay an appropriate amount to acquire it — but those auctions have also led to some telcos with sufficient buying power purchasing spectrum to stop their competitors from using it, without actually using it themselves.
The auction process also prevents new entrants from starting up easily against the incumbents. Some of the bands that will likely be “pioneer” spectrum for early 5G rollouts have already been licensed out, though. Optus already owns the entire 100MHz portion of 3.4GHz spectrum in Sydney and Melbourne metro areas, where the outer metro areas of those cities are held for use by NBN fixed wireless. Telstra has small portions of 3.4GHz across a wide range of areas around the country.
The Internet of Things will also be a big push for 5G, as well its potential cross-functionality with high-speed fixed-line networks like the fibre NBN. 5G could be a ‘last mile’ network, the ACCC says, greatly reducing rollout costs and — in Australia’s case — replacing ancient in-ground copper networks.
Sims is clear in that he wants 5G to be an advantage to consumers, not a tool for government moneymaking and corporate profit: “the value of spectrum lies in the economic and social benefits it can provide to citizens and consumers, not in financial returns to the Budget. I’ve said it before as we’ve seen the evidence: when governments downplay competition to sell monopoly assets for the highest price the economy loses out.” [ACCC]
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