The Federal Government has added allocation limits to the upcoming 5G spectrum auction for the 850/900Mhz band.
Communications minister Paul Fletcher revealed that prospective bidders would be limited to holding no more than 82 MHz of sub-1 GHz 5G spectrum in the most populous areas and up to 92 MHz in more sparsely populated regional areas. These equate to 40 percent and 45 percent limits, respectively.
Fletcher said the decision, through directions to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), came following recommendations from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released in March.
The agency sought to have a single 40 percent bidding limit, whereas Fletcher’s announcement boosted the regional areas to 45 percent to encourage investment.
As part of Fletcher’s direction, the auction is required to set aside spectrum in the 900Mhz band for Optus and TPG Telecom to guarantee them the opportunity to acquire 10 MHz of 900 MHz band spectrum at the auction.
The 850/900Mhz band spectrum auction is planned for later this year, with a prospective date of sometime in November and December 2021.
Telstra and Optus have welcomed the limits, calling the decision a win for regional customers.
“Low-band spectrum is a scarce national resource that will be vital to achieving our digital economy’s potential, and the Minister’s considered decision will ensure more Australians benefit from choice, competition and the option to experience Optus’ value, service and Australia’s fastest 5G,” Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said.
Optus vice president for regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan took aim at Telstra, saying the decision would “correct the current imbalance” in the industry and is critical for competition in the mobile sector.
“We applaud the Minister for standing by what he knows is in the best interests of Australians, despite our largest competitor throwing their massive weight behind a scare campaign to close out competition from regional Australia,” Sheridan said.
“Regional Australians will benefit from continued access to competitive services and choice, an outcome our largest competitor sought to deny.
“The decision also reflects the considered advice of the independent consumer regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, while still cleverly addressing some of the complexities of technical limitations of these bands."
Telstra was pleased the Federal Government increased the limits for regional areas from the ACCC’s recommendations, saying it would maintain its current network.
Telstra group executive for sustainability, external affairs and legal Lyndall Stoyles said in a blog post, "We’re pleased the Government has increased the amount of low band spectrum we can bid for in regional areas. We’ve been really vocal about how important this decision is – not just for our customers, but also to ensure regional Australia can better participate in and benefit from the growing digital economy.”
“The decision is a win for the people, businesses and communities of regional and rural Australia, and the regional stakeholders who advocated for it. It will mean we can bid for enough spectrum to maintain our leading mobile network, although we would have liked the opportunity to bid for more so that regional Australia can get the most out of the latest technologies as they evolve during the 20 year licence period.”
CRN also contacted TPG Telecom for comment on the decision.
Updated 9 August 1:15pm: Telstra has responded to Optus' comments:
Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn said, "We note part of the reasoning for the spectrum limits was to give Optus the opportunity to acquire additional spectrum to roll out 4G and 5G services across regional Australia."
"This rewards Optus for its failure to invest in previous low band spectrum auctions and really means it’s time for Optus to put its money where its mouth is."