The communications regulator is gearing up for discussions with C-band satellite operators in an attempt to migrate a portion of the spectrum required for the television broadcast services to meet growing demand for mobile broadband.
In its Towards 2020: Future spectrum requirements for mobile broadband report released this week, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) identified a need to claim 300 megahertz (MHz) more spectrum within the next nine years to meet growing mobile broadband requirements in Australia, effectively doubling the need previously established by the government agency in its five-year outlook.
It claimed it would need to accommodate 1000 times more data use in 2020 compared to 2007, based on current increases in smartphone use as well as estimated increases in the use of video downloads and machine-to-machine communications.
While the regulator has previously estimated a need for 150MHz of additional spectrum by 2015 beyond that currently used, officials estimated a steady increase in demand for spectrum until 2016 meant an additional 150MHz, or a total 300MHz was necessary.
Officials said bands of 900MHz and 1.5GHz spectrum could be used for the first five years, but a chunk of the higher frequency 3.7GHz to 4.2GHz bands would ultimately be need to meet the full, ten-year requirements.
An official acknowledged difficulties in obtaining the latter, currently used by satellite operators for receiving signals under standard C-band technology, primarily for television broadcasts.
Expensive existing satellite equipment in urban areas, where spectrum is most needed, could ultimately cause an impasse between the regulator, satellite operators, and telco carriers eager to expand their spectrum licence portfolios.
Discussions are yet to be held with satellite operators, but it is believed this will be undertaken following wider communication of the discussion paper and particularly in the lead-up to ACMA’s annual spectrum conference at the end of the month.
The potential dispute comes as the latest in several regarding allocation and use of spectrum by competing parties. Increasing demands from the likes of emergency services and railway operators in particular have grown in volume recently as spectrum requirements accelerate more quickly than the regulator has been able to allocate them.
Satellite players have also voiced concern over increasing threats to their business models, particularly in the wake of NBN Co's plans to launch two Ka-band satellites to deliver satellite services to approximately seven per cent of Australian permises under the National Broadband Network.
ACMA has previously identified 890MHz of total spectrum available for use by mobile broadband carriers and private entities for wireless access services, including the 90MHz worth of spectrum in the 700MHz band, set to be auctioned off in 2013 under what is known as the “digital dividend”. The 150MHz spectrum obtained from satellite operators would bring total spectrum allocation for mobile broadband use to approximately 1040MHz.
LTE spectrum progress
An ACMA official said the regulator was in “advanced stages” to confirm the use of 2.6GHz spectrum for LTE services in Australia. The spectrum is so far the only band approved globally for roaming with mobile devices using the technology, but is yet to be identified by local carriers as viable for the technology.
The regulator has also hoped to encourage use of 1.5GHz spectrum for LTE as part of its current, five-year spectrum outlook, a band in use only by Japanese incumbent telco NTT Docomo. Telstra, Vodafone Hutchison Australia and Optus have all either progressed or identified the 1.8GHz spectrum for LTE use locally.
Wi-Fi reliance a godsend
According to the regulator, demand for spectrum would continue to build on a steady pace until about 2016 before reducing slightly as users began to offload data used by mobile devices onto more local wireless technologies while at home or in the office.
The discussion paper forecast some 80 per cent of users would begin to use successor technolgies to Wi-Fi femtocells and Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology for mobile data use by 2020, relieving some spectrum requirements.
Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch
Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU