NZ spectrum debate highlights WiMAX regulatory dilemma

Wireless frequencies become prime real estate

The New Zealand debate

At the heart of the New Zealand argument are 12 8MHz blocks in the 2.3-2.4GHz band which were first allocated back in 1990 and which are not due for renewal until 2010.

NZ Telecom has rights to eight of these blocks, Woosh owns rights to two, and Sky TV and BCL each owns one block. Woosh has negotiated with Telecom over a few of its blocks, and has also been in negotiations with Sky, but the government is not convinced this would be the best use of the spectrum.

The government says it wants to take back some of these blocks, repackage them, optimise them for WiMAX use, and then re-auction them. The regulator says that, since the licenses were originally allocated for a different usage, they can be taken back. Woosh argues that the government cannot forcibly take back the blocks and so any plan to re-auction would mean that the new owners could not activate the services until 2010 at the earliest, putting New Zealand well behind in broadband wireless.

The government said: "In some of the bands that are able to be used there are some historic licenses around which haven't been used. What we are intending to do is to take some of those back, which we are able to do under their terms of issue, repackage them and optimise them for wireless broadband and take them to market in a way that will allow the fastest possible roll-out of WiMAX, for example."

There has been considerable controversy around WiMAX-suitable spectrum in New Zealand. Last month, providers led by Wellington-based Araneo demanded that the bands allocated in 3.5GHz should be widened from the current 7MHz pairs in order to support high speed services.

And earlier in the year, New Zealand Telecom was accused of acquiring a slice of 3.5GHz spectrum without regulatory clearance, according to the country’s Commerce Commission, which launched a probe.

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