ACMA moves ahead to refarm 900-MHz and 3.6-GHz bands

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Image credit: Zoran Milic /

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced it is pushing ahead with its plans to refarm the 900-MHz and 3.6-GHz spectrum bands for 4G and 5G, respectively.

The ACMA said it plans to enable refarming of the 890-915/935-960 MHz bands for 4G usage now that Australian operators are shutting down their 2G operations. Telstra and Optus have already done so, and Vodafone Hutchison Australia began its 2G shutdown process last month, and is scheduled to switch off the service for good at the end of March 2018.

‘Now that 2G services have been or are being switched off, the ACMA is also keen to refarm the 900-MHz GSM band and optimize its utility for newer generation mobile broadband services such as 4G,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin. “We propose to do this over a number of years to avoid disruption of existing services. We also plan to make available additional spectrum already planned for reallocation to mobile broadband in the 850-MHz band.”

The ACMA said it has decided to “clear the current apparatus licenses in the 890–915/935–960 MHz band and commence the consultation process towards making a recommendation to the Minister for Communications that the band be subject to a price-based allocation of 5 MHz (based) lots.”

The ACMA said the 900-MHz reallocation plan won’t take effect until 2021, ostensibly giving cellcos time to figure out how to make sure rural customers won’t be adversely affected.

The ACMA said it also recognizes that there are direct linkages between 890–915/935–960 MHz and the 850 MHz expansion band, which is also planned for 4G use, but currently unallocated for that purpose. Consequently, the ACMA intends to recommend that the two bands be allocated concurrently, with licenses in the 850 MHz expansion band issued in mid-2021.

The ACMA also acknowledged that clearance of the 850-MHz band is still ongoing, which means reallocation together with 900 MHz would mean that the 850-MHz band licenses would be partially encumbered for the first three years of their tenure. The ACMA said existing services transitioning out of that band would be protected during that time, and the scope for 4G deployments in that band will vary by frequency and location up until 2024

Meanwhile, the 3.6-GHz band (3575 MHz–3700 MHz) has been on the table since October 2016 when the ACMA released its first discussion paper seeking industry feedback on how to go about repurposing the band for 5G. Other markets have already targeted the band for 5G – the main challenge is that parts of the band are already being used by satellite operators for extended C-band services, so any 5G spectrum plan adopting 3.6-GHz must ensure existing users won’t be affected.

The ACMA proposed mitigation measures in a consultation paper in June this year, and is apparently satisfied by stakeholder responses that it has issued a decision paper recommending that the Minister for Communications “reallocate the 3.6 GHz band for the issue of spectrum licenses in defined metropolitan and regional areas of Australia.”

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