ACMA opens Digital Dividend auction

The Australian government seeks to deliver more spectrum to the mobile industry with the Digital Dividend auction opening today, according to Andrew Kerans, executive manager for spectrum planning at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The spectrum auction—one of the largest ever held in Australia—commences at 9am. The ACMA anticipates that the auction will run over several weeks, with auction results known in mid to late May 2013.

In an interview transcript with the GSM Association obtained by Computerworld Australia, Kerans summed up ACMA’s objectives for the 700MHz auction in one sentence:

“Basically it’s just to get the spectrum to market in the most economically efficient manner and, where possible, to enhance competition.”

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The auction is expected to extend mobile coverage in regional areas and enhance capacity in crowded cities.

Australia’s “combination of urban density and rural expanse factors strongly into our spectrum planning,” Kerans said.

“For example, when you’re trying to cover these vast areas, getting as much sub-1GHz spectrum out there for mobile services is critical. Otherwise it’s simply too expensive to cover very low-population areas with high-frequency bands.”

The ACMA has calibrated the 700MHz band in Australia for mobile LTE, based on 3GPP standards. “Those are technology-flexible, because if you work within the defined outer band limits, you can operate anything you like in there,” Kerans said.

Australia chose the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) band plan for 700MHz, aligning the country to Asia rather than the United States.

“The Australian broadcast channels line up nicely with a lot of the countries in the Asia Pacific, so the Digital Dividend from 694–806MHz (up to 820MHz in Australia) fits quite well,” Kerans said. “And the Asia Pacific band plan allows for competition, allowing for 3x15MHz blocks or 2x20MHz plus 1x5MHz, so it’s by far the best plan from that perspective, and by far the best plan in terms of the amount of usable spectrum it offers.”

By contrast, the US band plan “isn’t as efficient as we would like,” Kerans said.

“You can’t, for instance, get 2x20MHz, which is the optimal block of spectrum to maximise data throughput. According to Ericsson, with 2x20 blocks you can get up to four times the throughput as with four disparate blocks of 5MHz.”

In addition, the US band plan is based around US TV channels and doesn’t support interoperability among operators, he said.

Some had argued to the ACMA in favour of the US plan, saying it would result in lower-priced mobile devices because of the largeness of the American market, Kerans said.

“Our answer to that, of course, is that if you combine the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian markets alone, you’re talking billions of users.”

The next major spectrum challenge is working out global roaming, especially on spectrum below 1GHz, Kerans said.

“Economies will grow if people can move freely with their communication devices, and that’s a huge challenge for spectrum managers and particularly the ITU [International Telecommunication Union] and the three regional groups,” he said.

“The only way we’ll really, truly have a single global economy where everybody benefits is for these groups and their constituent countries to get together — actually work together, instead of coming up with their own plans.”

Spectrum is no trivial matter, he said.

“We’ve worked out that the average person uses spectrum about 143 times a day, from the automatic car-door opener to the radio and mobile phone—even to the speeding ticket you get because a policeman tracked you with a radar gun.”

“It may not be all that exciting, but today people could not live without radio spectrum, and managing it is getting harder and harder.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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