5G an ‘inflection point’ for Australian economy, Fifield says

Changes to spectrum management to smooth deployment of 5G technologies, communications minister says

The arrival of 5G in Australia will represent “an inflection point not just for the telecoms sector but also for the entire Australian economy,” communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield said this morning.

Although a final 5G standard is not expected to be completed until 2020, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all conducted early trials of some of the technology that underpins it.

5G appears poised to be a “revolutionary change” thanks to the combination of extremely low-latency and support for high-bandwidth applications, Fifield told the CommsDay Unwired Revolution conference.

“For Australia, this represents an unprecedented opportunity,” the minister said. “There’s no country I think better positioned to harness the opportunities of 5G. We have an effective and competitive mobile market which delivers voice and data coverage to 99.3 per cent of the population and this despite our huge landmass and extremely low population density.”

TPG’s move to become the nation’s fourth mobile carrier shows “Australia will continue to benefit form a fiercely competitive mobile market”.

The minister cited a report from the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research that claimed while data downloads are growing, real consumer prices for mobile services are falling.

5G will enable new services in fields such as health, education, automotive, Fifield said, adding that there is also “enormous scope” for emergency services systems to take advantage of it.

5G will also foster greater uptake of Internet Things applications, Fifield said and “help us build the smart homes and cities of the future”.

The government is “working hard to modernise the policy and legislative framework which will support the early uptake of 5G, including ensuring “that there are no unnecessary roadblocks for carriers seeking to deploy 5G,” Fifield said.

One area of government responsibility that will be key to 5G success is spectrum reform, the minister added.

“We’re committed to reform to ensure the framework governing access to spectrum is fit for purpose”

In May government launched a consultation on reforms that it says will modernise and simplify Australia’s spectrum management framework, including an exposure draft of the Radiocommunications Bill 2017.

“The draft legislation removes the existing barriers between licence types and enables flexible licence issue and allocation processes,” Fifield said.

“This will enable [the Australian Communications and Media Authority] to pro-actively respond to market demands and new technologies such as 5G by removing the overly cumbersome and bureaucratic processes and allowing the market to work.

“This is the most significant change to the spectrum management framework in the last 25 or so years, and it’s the type of long-term reform that will help Australia remain internationally competitive.”

The consultation has been extended until 28 July.

“5G will additional infrastructure in new forms, including smaller cells and more densely located antennas, which can be placed on lampposts or traffic lights,” Fifield said.

“It was with this in mind that I announced in June that the government would undertake public consultation on telecommunications carrier powers and immunities.”

“These laws in the current form have existed for the best part of 20 years so we need to take into account changes in technology and operating practices to ensure that the laws remain relevant in a changing environment”

The proposed changes are “wide ranging” and among other things they cover new technologies and deployment, streamlined application and objection processes and clarify the implications of council heritage overlays.

The proposed changes could benefit the rollout of 5G, Fifield said.

“The proposed changes would help mobile carriers roll out new technologies faster and at lower cost, with savings estimated by [the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Authority] to be at least $100 million per annum.”

“With the rollout of 5G expected to see the deployment of much more mobile network equipment than we’ve had to date, it’s going to be important to strike the right balance between the needs of infrastructure providers and local communities,” the minister said.

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