Feeds

Carriers vs cops: Australia's spectrum conundrum

New services or emergency services?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Australia, like other countries subsidising the broadcast and consumer electronics industries rolling out digital TV, is now preparing to auction the old analogue TV spectrum for the best price possible.

The obvious answer is a spectrum auction, the obvious customer the telco industry. That has the tech press wildly imagining a new golden era of cheap broadband, somehow believing that the same carriers that price a mobile gigabyte at up to $80 will become more generous with the LTE services they're going to launch over their new, expensive spectrum.

What should happen to the "digital dividend" (which everybody except Treasury seems to regard as some kind of social description rather than a purely economic one) is a lively debate, and currently centres on whether emergency services should have any of the newly-available spectrum.

The emergency services argument, mostly prosecuted by the police (but presumably cheered on quietly by fire brigades and ambulance services), is that there will be plenty of spectrum to go around. The switch to digital TV will make 126 MHz of spectrum available; emergency services just wants 20 MHz of this.

The counter-argument, prosecuted by the telecommunications industry and mostly supported by the tech press, is that the whole 126 MHz has to go on the auction block to maximise the number of new services Australia will get.

The carriers' case is being ably prosecuted by John Stanton, head of the industry's representative body, the Communications Alliance. His position is that if the industry gets the whole of the available spectrum at auction, emergency services organisations can then negotiate with the industry for access to the spectrum.

But who is right?

The telcos' position: spectrum equals LTE

Today's mobile networks portion the spectrum out in 20 MHz blocks. While technologies like LTE-Advanced will work in a 20 MHz channel, higher performance implementations – the maximum downlink speeds above 100 Mbps that get the tech press so excited – need wider channels, like 40 MHz.

Hence the clash with emergency services. To allocate 40 MHz each to three bidders needs 120 MHz: keeping back 20 MHz for emergency services leaves only room for two 40 MHz blocks (with 26 MHz as the odd-man-out leftover).

If they can persuade the government to preserve the entire digital dividend for the auction, mobile telcos Telstra, Optus and VHA (the merged Vodafone-Hutchison entity) are the winners: there's really nobody around to bid against them.

It's unlikely that an emerging fourth mobile carrier would find investors to pitch a brand-new network against the majors. Investors would need to back a company not just to win the spectrum auction, but to roll out the whole vast infrastructure of a new, competitive mobile network – and to survive the cash burn of acquiring customers in a relatively mature market.

In other words, the industry position in this debate is really the position of the three mobile carriers that dominate the market.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Crouching tiger, FAST ASLEEP dragon: Smugglers can't shift iPhone 6s
China's grey market reports 'sluggish' sales of Apple mobe
Sea-Me-We 5 construction starts
New sub cable to go live 2016
EE coughs to BROKEN data usage metrics BLUNDER that short-changes customers
Carrier apologises for 'inflated' measurements cockup
Comcast: Help, help, FCC. Netflix and pals are EXTORTIONISTS
The others guys are being mean so therefore ... monopoly all good, yeah?
Surprise: if you work from home you need the Internet
Buffer-rage sends Aussies out to experience road rage
EE buys 58 Phones 4u stores for £2.5m after picking over carcass
Operator says it will safeguard 359 jobs, plans lick of paint
MOST iPhone strokers SPURN iOS 8: iOS 7 'un-updatening' in 5...4...
Guess they don't like our battery-draining update?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.