The government will hold the first auction of 5G spectrum in the 3.5GHz band early in 2020 and expects the spectrum to be available for use from 2022 minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media Kris Faafoi has announced.
This date is well behind what both the government and operators have flagged as optimal. And Faafoi said the government would not be able to provide details of what spectrum would be available for auction until spectrum-related Treaty of Waitangi issues had been resolved.
He said national spectrum rights in the 3.5 GHz band would be available to use from November 2022 when the existing rights in this band expire, but "with the agreement of the existing rights holder, an operator may be able to use the rights earlier."
Consultation on the auction process is expected to be held in the second half of 2019.
Faafoi said 3.5GHz spectrum would also be made available to regional providers of fixed wireless broadband services.
He said the government’s next priority would be allocation of spectrum in the millimetre wave bands for 5G, and details would be shared later this year.
National spectrum rights in the 3.5 GHz band will be available to use from November 2022 when the existing rights in the band expire. However, with the agreement of the existing rights holder, an operator may be able to use the rights earlier, Faafoi said.
A discussion document on 5G, Preparing for 5G in New Zealand, issued in March 2018 said "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 businesses.
In August 2018 Spark published a briefing paper setting out its plans for 5G services, and criticising the government for what it said was policy inertia on 5G.
Managing director Simon Moutter said the allocation processes for the two most likely spectrum bands — the 3.5GHz band and high frequency mmWave band — should be completed as soon as possible to ensure 5G services could be delivered in time for the 2020-21 America’s Cup in Auckland as an international showcase opportunity.
The March 2018 discussion document floated the idea of a single 5G network.
"The New Zealand market is, and is likely to remain, small compared to the level of investment required to roll out a national network. The question of whether there is ‘room’ in the New Zealand market for multiple 5G networks, or whether a single national 5G network would be more cost effective, has been raised in the media."
However it added: "New Zealand has sufficient spectrum available for 5G to support the rollout of at least three national networks. All cellular mobile network operators have indicated their desire to build their own 5G network and compete at the infrastructure level."
The document said the lower part of the 3.5GHz band (3410 to 3487MHz and 3510 to 3587MHz) was used for wireless broadband and in Crown and private management rights that expire in October 2022. "There has been little or no deployment of services in private management rights in the band," it said.
The upper part of the 3.5GHz band (3589 to 3700 MHz) is allocated to fixed satellite services and is largely unused. These licences expire in October 2022.
On 27 February MBIE released a redacted version of a cabinet paper Allocation of radio spectrum for 5G Mobile.