A Government paper discussing spectrum for 5G, the next generation of cellular technology, suggests the process to parcel out the rights could begin in the next 12-18 months.
“We anticipate that allocation of long term rights commencing in 2022 will begin in 2018/19. With many countries looking to roll out 5G from 2020, waiting until 2022 for network operators to have access to spectrum and roll out their 5G networks may be detrimental to New Zealand,” it states in the Government’s discussion paper Preparing for 5G in New Zealand.
In the paper 5G is described as a step change in the provision of mobile telecommunications with peak data rates of up to 20 Gbps and fast response times (latency) of 1 millisecond. The technology is likely to require double the number of existing cell sites in urban areas but the pay-off is that 5G will enable technology such as self-driving cars. Trials of 5G are being showcased at high profile global events, including the Australian Gold Coast Commonwealth Games which begins tomorrow.
Due to its small size, New Zealand is careful to follow international practice, set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) when it comes to choosing which radio spectrum bands will be used for 5G services. The paper identifies 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands as high on the consideration list, with the former as the “top priority band for allocation for 5G”.
According to the report, the lower part of the 3.5Hz band is used for wireless broadband, and management rights are currently held by the Crown, Vodafone, Spark, Connecta (Compass Communications) and Kordia. The upper part of the band is allocated for fixed satellite services, with rights currently held by Inmarsat. The paper notes the “previous Minister for Communications decided no renewal offers would be made to incumbent rights holders in the 3.5 Ghz band to allow re-planning of the band for 5G when the existing rights expire in 2022.”
Meanwhile, much of the 26 GHz band is currently underutilized, with management rights in the upper part of this band expiring in January. Other bands that may be considered are the 1400 MHz band, mainly used by Chorus, with other users including the Airways Corporation and the NZ Police, and the 600 MHz band, which is currently used for broadcasting.
Whichever band is chosen, the discussion paper makes it clear New Zealand has “sufficient spectrum available for 5G to support the rollout of at least three national networks.” The paper notes that current network owners are “likely to incrementally deploy 5G technology, relying on their existing networks to provide national coverage.” This point was echoed by Vodafone CEO Russell Stanners at the company’s 5G demo to media last week:
“We can easily evolve our existing 4G and 4G+ networks to 5G, and in doing so, prepare our customers and the country for the high speed, low latency applications expected in a future 5G world.”