Telstra Insists It Wasn’t Interfering With Optus’ 5G Rollout, but Agrees to ACCC Undertaking

Telstra Insists It Wasn’t Interfering With Optus’ 5G Rollout, but Agrees to ACCC Undertaking
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The ACCC has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Telstra to address competition concerns the watchdog had regarding Telstra’s impact on Optus’ 5G network rollout.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was concerned that Telstra’s registration of radiocommunications sites in low band spectrum could prevent (or at least hinder) Optus from deploying its 5G network. The ACCC thinks this could have prevented competition in the space.

Access to low band spectrum is crucial to providing core network coverage for mobile services and the rollout of 5G, the ACCC explained.

As a result of the undertaking, Telstra is required to deregister all remaining radiocommunications sites it registered with the ACMA in the 900 MHz spectrum band in January 2022 which would have prevented Optus from early access to the spectrum.

“Telstra’s undertaking will ensure Optus is not hindered from expanding its 5G rollout, giving more Australians access to a choice of 5G services in regional and metropolitan Australia,” ACCC commissioner Liza Carver said.

“This is critical as 5G network coverage becomes an increasingly important factor in consumer choice in mobile phones and mobile plans.”

A Telstra spokesman told Gizmodo Australia that it does not agree with the ACCC’s views that this was potentially anti-competitive.

“Our focus here was on improving service for our customers, including relieving 3G congestion in some parts of regional Australia,” they said.

“We identified an opportunity to reduce congestion in a small number of places by moving 3G traffic onto our 900 MHz spectrum, given it is unused and we own until 2024. At the same time this would free up 850 MHz spectrum to meet the growing demands of our 5G customers.”

According to Telstra, it makes absolute sense for the telco to use the spectrum it owns in such a way to maximise the experience for its 3G and 5G customers.

“While we do not agree with the ACCC’s view, these cases can be drawn out, costly and time-consuming, and risk distracting us from providing better service to our customers, including customers in regional Australia,” they added.

“To avoid that we have filed an undertaking to deregister sites in areas Optus demonstrates it will use the spectrum in its 5G rollout.”

Optus’ regulatory and public affairs vice president, Andrew Sheridan, told Gizmodo Australia his telco is “pleased” with the actions taken by the ACCC to “promote 5G competition for Australia’s consumers and businesses”.

Optus was concerned that its major competitor was “gaming the system” to delay its 5G rollout to “gain an unfair advantage and deny Australians choice”.

“Competitive connectivity is the foundation of our future digital economy; without it, Australia loses opportunities and will fall behind other nations,” he said.

Telstra said it will continue to use equipment and sites in areas where Optus is not rolling out.

“We hope this means we can continue to use our 900 MHz spectrum until it expires in 2024 to deliver benefits for our customers, given that Optus’s 5G rollout is not well advanced in many of those areas,” the Telstra spokesperson added.

The ACCC said it will continue to closely monitor the market.