Small cell rollouts face ACMA scrutiny

Regulator reveals 2019-20 compliance priorities

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has revealed that telecommunications carriers' compliance with electromagnetic energy (EME) emission standards when installing small cell base stations will face heightened scrutiny during FY20.

Australia’s telcos have used small cell base stations to provide mobile services to address coverage gaps or offer coverage in remote areas that would otherwise not have access to cellular services. Small cells are set to play an increasingly important role, however, as telcos seek to deliver new 5G services using high-frequency (‘mmWave’) spectrum.

Creina Chapman, the ACMA’s deputy chair and CEO, today told the CommsDay Summit in Sydney that ensuring small cells meet emission standards, as well as making sure carriers carry out adequate consultation processes before deployment, is one of five broad priority areas of compliance enforcement for the regulator over the next year.

“While these low-powered mobile base stations are used to deliver 4G services, this deployment will exponentially increase with the roll-out of 5G,” Chapman said.

“We are already seeing signs of public concern about the increased number of small cells in our local communities. For this reason, we will work with the carriers and other government agencies to fully inform the public about the equipment being installed in their street.”

Chapman said the ACMA will be considering whether small cells comply with EME standards set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, including through a future audit program.

The ACMA will also be monitoring carriers’ compliance with the Mobile Base Station Deployment Code, she told the conference.

The regulator has discovered instances where TPG subsidiary PIPE Networks failed to meet its obligations under the code (TPG recently ditched its mobile network rollout). “We made compliance directions that carry the prospect of stronger action for any future non-compliance,” Chapman said.

“Over the coming year, we will prioritise compliance activity in this area to consider whether code obligations are being met as more and more small cells are deployed.”

Optus recently called for a rethink of the rules governing telco infrastructure deployment, with the telco pushing in particular for new rules to better facilitate small cell rollouts.

The other 2019-20 compliance priorities for the ACMA include telco consumer safeguards, unsolicited communications, monitoring commercial influence in broadcast news, gambling, and interference and licencing compliance.

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