ACMA mulls 5G future for 3.6GHz spectrum

Re-farming could begin this year, communications regulator says

The potential re-farming of spectrum in the 3.6GHz band for use in fixed and/or mobile broadband services could begin as soon as soon as Q4 2017, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The communications regulator today released an options paper on the future use of 3.6GHz spectrum.

The ACMA said its current preferred option is to “establish arrangements optimised for wide-area broadband deployments (be they mobile or fixed)” over all the spectrum available in the band (125MHz — the band covers the 3575-3700 MHz frequency range). Spectrum licenses would be allocated via auction.

Current users of the spectrum, including satellite earth stations in metropolitan areas and point-to-multipoint users in regional areas, such as some wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), would be affected by changes to how the spectrum is allocated.

Spectrum in the 5.6GHz band would potentially be made available for WISPs and other point-to-multipoint users, the ACMA said. ‘Earth station protection zones’ could be established, allowing the ongoing use of 3.6GHz spectrum by satellite services.

Submissions to a prior ACMA consultation confirmed “previous strong indications that the 3.6 GHz band is of increasing interest for wide-area mobile and fixed broadband networks,” the options paper said.

“While clearly of interest from a purely network capacity perspective, the band has also been flagged as a potential option for early 5G use, bringing with it the possibility of new types of fixed or mobile broadband services,” the paper states.

“The nature of the band means that it has at times been referred to as a potential ‘coverage layer’, meaning its relatively robust propagation characteristics would complement those of the millimetre wave spectrum that has been the other focus of early interest for 5G services. Hence a reallocated 3.6 GHz band may become an important part of providing 5G services to both urban and regional areas.”

“In line with our established mobile broadband strategy, we want to make sure Australia is well placed to take advantage of the emergence of 5G technologies both in the cities and the regions,’ said the ACMA’s acting chairperson, Richard Bean.

 “The ACMA acknowledges the strong interest in the 3.6 GHz band for 5G and other wide area broadband uses, while also recognising that there are existing services and licensees using these frequencies that want to continue operating.”

The regulator is accepting submissions on the options paper until 4 August. The document is available from the ACMA’s website.

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