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5G

Telstra, Optus clash over mmWave spectrum allocations

Australia's biggest telcos are clashing over just how much mmWave spectrum operators should receive.

Telstra has told competition regulator ACCC that operators needed at least 1GHz of contiguous 26GHz spectrum.

But Optus has called for an allocation limit of 800MHz "to ensure that no single operator can be dominant."

In a submission to the ACCC it said: "An allocation limit of 800 MHz will allow networks to deliver peak speeds greater than 20 Gbps, consistent with ITU 5G specifications; while ensuring the market would see at least three mmWave networks."

The regulator called the industry consultation late last year to canvass the competition issues surrounding spectrum allocation in the mmWave bands.

Operators have already acquired 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz spectrum through government auctions.

The 26GHz would be the first globally recognized mmWave spectrum to be allocated for Australian 5G, the ACCC said.

Trying to navigate a path somewhere between spectrum monopolization and underutilization, it said it wanted to avoid mmWave spectrum allocations that created "significant concentration."

In its submission, Telstra said industry bodies such as the GSMA and the GSA believed operators needed to deploy at least 1GHz of contiguous highband spectrum to support the peak speeds and full range of 5G use cases.

"Telstra therefore considers that a 26GHz spectrum licence allocation limit of at least 1GHz is the minimum allocation required to support ongoing strong investment, innovation and differentiated competition in the supply of 5G services in Australia."

It argued that as a nascent technology mmWave carried significant investment risk which could be reduced by issuing a larger allocation.

But Optus cited the experience of Telstra in 4G as an illustration of how large spectrum holdings can lead to market dominance.

It said Telstra's market share had fallen to below 40% in the 3G era, but because it was able to refarm its 2G and 3G spectrum assets it quickly recouped these losses after rolling out its 4G network.

"This demonstrates that benefits of technology disruption can quickly be overcome without access to sufficient spectrum," Optus argued.

However, the regulator's competition concerns are not shared by the smallest operators. Neither Vodafone Australia nor TPG, partners in a yet-to-be approved merger, bothered to make a submission.

State-owned broadband wholesaler NBN also had no anxieties about the impact on competition.

It said the mmWave frequencies would provide an upgrade path for its fixed wireless services, used mostly in regional Australia. It is currently trialing FWA 26 and 28GHz bands over distances of around 10km.

— Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, special to Light Reading

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