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TUANZ: don't risk mobile competition

New Zealand plots spectrum future

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

New Zealand has kicked off the consultation period for its planned 700 MHz spectrum auction, to take place in 2013.

That country's Radio Spectrum Management Agency has adopted the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) band plan, in which 45 MHz of paired spectrum will be made available in nine 5 MHz blocks.

The government is hoping to limit bidders to 15 MHz each. TUANZ's Paul Brislen told The Register the aim is to have all three of New Zealand's mobile carriers – Vodafone, Telecom New Zealand and 2Degrees in the auction process.

Only if the auction failed to attract a third bidder would the government consider stretching the allowable buy to 20 Mhz. While that would be a boon for the winners, Brislen says it would be far better for users to have three mobile providers competing than to risk having the market turn into a “cozy duopoly”.

Another possibility also designed to support competition is that the government may allow payments to be stretched over time – if it can persuade Treasury that the competitive benefits outweigh the budgetary impact.

Brislen told The Register he is concerned at a risk that rural areas may see a drop in competition under the fixed wireless broadband component of the country's broadband rollouts. Under the Rural Broadband Initiative, TNZ and Vodafone both offer 3G-based fixed wireless broadband, backhauled by the fibre they're obliged to install to facilities like hospitals and schools.

While 2Degrees has a roaming agreement with Vodafone, Brislen said it only covers 3G – with a spectrum-driven upgrade to 4G, he said, there's a risk that the junior telco might find itself left behind.

Other issues Brislen hopes get prominence in the consultation process include whether the LTE is likely to impact on the 806-812 MHz KK band, whether there's the opportunity for white space uses of the guard bands in the 700 MHz, and importantly, whether Māori rights become an issue for the process.

In the early 2000s spectrum auctions, spectrum was considered to fall under the scope of the Treaty of Waitangi (one of the reasons that 2Degrees now exists). If the current process isn't handled well, there's the chance that the spectrum timetable could be derailed by litigation.

The consultation documents are here. ®

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