ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman at the Radcomms conference in Sydney. Credit: Adam Bender
The government and mobile industry have supported an overhaul of Australian spectrum regulations to keep up with the rapid pace of technology.
In a keynote at the RadComms conference in Sydney, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Chairman Chris Chapman said spectrum rules are due for an update.
“The current framework for managing Australia’s spectrum resources has been in place for almost 20 years,” he said.
“In an industry that has undergone significant social, market and political change, as well as rapid technological change, we will have to become smarter and more nimble if we’re to continue our success into the future.”
“In order to keep pace with industry and innovation, we need to focus on refining and reforming our regulatory toolkit and make sure regulation does not become an impediment to Australia actually realising its full economic potential from spectrum use.”
The mobile phone industry supports an overhaul of the Radiocommunications (RadComms) Act – the 1992 law that governs spectrum management in Australia, according to Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus.
“We think there is an opportunity for regulatory reform,” he said. “Look at the Act, look at the processes that underpin it.”
Fight for spectrum
Besides a new policy framework on mobile, AMTA wants the government to release more spectrum so that the mobile industry can address accelerating customer demand for mobile broadband, Althaus said.
“It’s not us who wants your spectrum,” said the mobile industry association's CEO.
“We’re just the conduit.”
Hakan Ohlsen, a director at Ericsson, agreed that more spectrum must be released to industry. He estimated globally there will be 4.5 billion smartphone connections and four times as much mobile broadband usage by 2018.
However, Andrew King, network manager at Network Ten, asked if telcos really need more spectrum, considering they didn’t buy all of the 700MHz spectrum that was up for sale in the recent Digital Dividend auction. The spectrum in question was originally owned by broadcasters like Ten.
“Spectrum’s a long game,” replied Althaus, who supports the government returning the remaining 700MHz spectrum to the market later on.
“What we see in the demand cycle is going to bring that spectrum into use. It’s going to be fully deployed in time.”
Other groups at the conference urged government not to give all the spectrum to the telcos.
NewSat chief technology officer, David Ball, said mobile broadband demand is unproven and it was important not to take spectrum from satellite and other existing services.
Rob Fitzpatrick, a director at NICTA, spoke about the importance of reserving spectrum for researchers to use as a “sandpit” for new technologies.
Network Ten’s King wished NICTA good luck keeping its spectrum.
“The broadcasting industry full supports your need for a sandpit, but just watch out when you have a sandpit. We had a natural sandpit in our spectrum. We developed new technology using that sandpit, and then our sandpit and everything else was taken away from us.”
Later, the Police Federation of Australia continued its campaign to obtain a portion of the unsold 700MHz spectrum for a dedicated mobile broadband network.
The PFA seeks 20MHz of the remaining 700MHz spectrum so that first responders can have reliable and interoperable mobile broadband communications in a disaster.
However, the ACMA had planned to provide 10MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band to public safety – a position supported by AMTA.
“When society and nature are at their worst, police and emergency services need to be at their best,” said PFA CEO Mark Burgess.
The RadComms Act recognised that spectrum has value for public safety, not just commercial companies, and they should not have to pay as much as the telcos, he said.
“Public safety needs mobile broadband communications, and it’s in the public interest.”
In his opening keynote, the ACMA’s Chapman indicated progress toward a national public safety mobile broadband network. “We continue to work with the PSAs and various other sectors of government to help realise this important capability,” he said.
“We are all aware that public safety mobile broadband has been a hot topic. But I think it’s reasonable to say that as a collective, significant progress has been made toward the ultimate goal of providing mobile data capacity to Australia’s public safety and emergency services.”
Mobile benefits business: ACMA
The rise of mobile broadband has driven business productivity and added billions to the Australian economy, Chapman said as he announced preliminary results of an ACMA survey conducted by the Centre for International Economics.
In Australia, voice minutes and data usage on mobile “have risen dramatically,” said Chapman. In June 2012, there were four mobile services for every three people, he said.
“Mobile broadband technologies are facilitating changing business product and service delivery models,” he said.
In the survey, 71 per cent of respondent businesses said they use mobile broadband technology, Chapman said. The dominant uses are phone calls (92 per cent), emails (86 per cent) and Internet access (82 per cent), he said.
One-third of businesses surveyed said mobile broadband reduced their business costs and about 80 per cent said mobile broadband saved time for employees, said Chapman.
In addition, 74 percent of businesses reported increases in sales by at least 5 per cent as a result of using mobile broadband, he said.
The increased business productivity has benefited the economy, Chapman said. He said the results translate to a cost savings of $22 billion per year and time saving of $14 billion per year compared to having no mobile broadband.
Mobile broadband has resulted in $2.5 billion annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) from 2007 to 2013, he said. GDP was $18 billion higher in 2013 than it would have been without mobile broadband, he said.
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