Telstra has recommend that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) look at whether some of the spectrum set aside for television services could be better used for 5G mobile services.
The ACMA is currently consulting with stakeholders on its five-year spectrum management work program.
Telstra has told the regulator that although high-resolution TV formats such as 4k and 8k have emerged, new advances in compression for broadcasts and the increased popularity of Netflix-style services means that consideration should be given to eventually freeing up spectrum for use with 5G mobile services.
“On balance, we believe the combination of improving compression standards and increasing use by Australian consumers of broadband ‘streaming’ for delivery of traditional television content points to the possibility that some existing television broadcast spectrum could be released for higher value uses in the future,” Telstra has told the ACMA.
The telco said there was “continued interest” in the potential release of the 614-698MHz band. In Australia, the band is largely set aside for use by digital TV services.
In the US, the Federal Communications Commission in 2017 oversaw the auctioning off of spectrum in the 600MHz band that had been employed for TV broadcasts, with telco T-Mobile spending $7.99 billion on licences. T-Mobile already uses the spectrum for 4G services and is preparing to roll out 5G using 600MHz later this year.
Telstra noted that in 2014, the then communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had mooted the potential use of the “sixth channel” for non-TV services — possibly as the basis for a “second digital dividend.” The first digital dividend was the government’s 2013 auction of spectrum, formerly used for analog TV broadcasts, in the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands.
The ACMA’s draft five-year spectrum outlook currently says it intends to monitor the 600MHz band “consistent with the Australian Government’s interest in considering the long-term availability of the television ‘sixth channel’ for non-broadcasting uses”.
“It could also support scenarios in which national broadcasting services were consolidated onto a single multiplex in each area, potentially freeing up an additional channel for broadcasting or other uses,” the ACMA’s document states.
The draft notes that the sixth channel “is currently available for trials of more advanced digital television technology”.
“There are no current government or industry plans for technical standards migration of television or the reconfiguration of TV channels,” it adds.
Australia’s telcos are keen to get their hands on as much spectrum as possible as they launch 5G services. Both Telstra and Optus have indicated strong interest in the 26GHz band for ‘mmWave’ 5G services, as well as potentially the 28GHz band.
The ACMA last year announced the results of its sell-off of 3.6GHz spectrum, which is the band being used to deliver Australia's first 5G services.