The head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned the government against any move to protect NBN Co’s network from the competitive pressure of emerging mobile technologies.
Some 6.5 million Australians have already gone “mobile-only” for voice, ACCC chair Rod Sims today told the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s RadComms conference.
There has also been “significant growth” in mobile data, and although it doesn’t match the use of fixed-line broadband services it is growing at a faster rate, Sims said.
Telstra and Optus are both planning to launch services based on the next-generation 5G wireless standard in 2019. Vodafone is also planning to offer 5G services (TPG, which is engaged in a merger with Vodafone, is also interested in the technology, but is in the process of launching its own mobile network.)
Telstra’s chief executive, Andy Penn, has said he believes 5G could potentially boost by 10-15 percentage points the proportion of Australian households choosing to go wireless-only. Around 15 per cent of homes have no fixed broadband services, the CEO told a Telstra strategy update meeting in June
“As 5G networks will be able to transport much more data, it’s anticipated, I think, that mobile broadband services may become much more of a viable substitute for fixed broadband,” Sims said in his speech.
“I think the trends that we see are quite clear, in that mobile broadband will in important ways substitute for fixed broadband,” he added.
“Whatever the costs of the NBN are... the worst outcome for consumers would be any attempt to protect the NBN from whatever competition is going to come from mobile technologies,” Sims said.
The ACCC is “very strongly in favour NBN facing competition,” the ACCC chair said. “From our point of view there should not be any thought of trying to protect the value of NBN – this is all about the consumers.”
Network operators are constrained in the fixed-line infrastructure they can roll out to compete with the NBN. No such constraint exists when it comes to wireless technologies (NBN Co itself has expressed interest in 5G’s potential to deliver services).
The ACMA is preparing to auction off spectrum in the 3.6GHz band later this year. The spectrum band will play a key role in delivering the first-generation of 5G services.