Swain opens door on high-power spectrum

'Public park' spectrum in the 5GHz band is being opened up for pilot use promising high-speed wireless connections.

Broadband access to rural areas is likely to become more accessible with the announcement that more of the radio spectrum has been made available for public, unlicensed use.

Communications minister Paul Swain has announced the allocation of “public park” spectrum in the upper 5GHz band. No licence will be required to use the public spectrum, but there will be no protection from interference caused by other users. The scheme is a pilot, slated to run until the end of June next year.

Existing public park spectrum has been instrumental in the popularity of wireless products such as 802.11 wireless devices, which use the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. The new spectrum, in the higher-power band, will allow delivery of more data.

Andrew Johnston, technical director of Internet Hawkes Bay, a prospective user, welcomes the news.

“There is a huge ability for us to provide service now,” he says. “It feels like somebody’s taken the foot off our neck, really.” High-speed bandwidth will become available to rural areas that previously faced a cost of “literally hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

“The nice thing is with point-to-point solutions … it becomes viable.”

Johnston says his company will mainly use the public park spectrum as a “driver” to deliver data to rural areas, where the 2.4GHz spectrum already available will be used to deliver data to homes and businesses.

The unpoliced nature of public park spectrum could lead to interference between operators using conflicting equipment or frequencies.

Wayne Wedderspoon, a senior planning analyst at the Ministry of Economic Development, notes that the equipment required to operate in the high 5GHz band is available in the US “effectively off the shelf”.

“It’s become more of a consumer item.”

That could lead to problems in metro areas, according to Johnston, who says some amateur operators might cause difficulties. In the Hawkes Bay, operators plan to set up an unlicensed spectrum user group to avoid any possibility of interference between operators’ equipment.

“There’s more than enough frequency out there to co-exist happily,” he says.

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