Coalition to use analogue TV spectrum for its broadband network

Shadow communications minister unclear on how wireless spectrum demand will be met in the years until the spectrum is fully available in 2014

The Coalition has signalled that it will make major use of the analogue television spectrum, due to become fully available once analogue television is switched off in 2014, for the provision of wireless broadband under its newly announced national broadband policy.

The plan, which would see an additional $1 billion in investment funding for new fixed wireless networks in metropolitan Australia, with an emphasis on outer metropolitan areas, quickly came under attack by the Government’s communications minister, Stephen Conroy.

“I’d like to know how he’s going to deliver 12Mbps. In what spectrum?” Conroy said at a three way debate held in Canberra between himself, Opposition communications minister, Tony Smith, and Greens Senator and communications spokesperson, Scott Ludlam.

“You can’t just say ‘I’m going to deliver it in spectrum’. If they’re in the unlicensed spectrum as that previous policy that they had in Government - unlicensed - and secondly, to deliver that to the number of people he’s talking about. How many mobile phone towers are you going to build?”

Smith replied that the Coalition would take a “pro-active approach” to the issue, hinting that telecommunications companies would be allowed to more easily trade required spectrum between each other.

“If need be, we will quarantine a portion of that spectrum to ensure that these services can be delivered and when companies bid they’ll be bidding for that spectrum,” Smith said.

He also said the Coalition would make use of available ex-analogue television spectrum from 2014 onward, but could not detail how additional spectrum required to deliver wireless to outer metropolitan, regional and rural areas in the four years until 2014, would occur.

“There’s tradeable spectrum and useable spectrum today but as you know, when the analogue signal is switched off, and the new spectrum comes online, we’ll be making use of it,” Smith said.

The news is likely to be welcomed by the CSIRO which, as reported by Computerworld Australia, will move in September to live field trials of its experimental wireless technology to assess whether the spectrum formerly used for analogue television can be used to deliver national broadband services.

The test will trial speeds of 12Mbps up and down over a range of tens of kilometres.

The Coalition’s policy document also notes that the party would work with existing wireless carriers so that its national broadband plan would not overlap coverage already supplied by industry.

“In particular, it will be important to manage spectrum in a way that enables these new fixed wireless networks to complement the plans of the existing mobile operators to upgrade their networks to 4G using Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards that provide for peak network speeds of up to 100Mbps and higher,” the document reads.

“Through these actions the Coalition will deliver uniform nationwide availability of high-speed broadband so that by 2016 Australia achieves a national broadband baseline with 97 percent of premises able to be served by high-speed networks, using a combination of technologies including DSL, fixed wireless and other technologies such as Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC),” the document reads.

“We will ensure that all such premises, wherever they are in Australia, are able to receive services at prices comparable to those for similar services in metropolitan areas.”

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