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Govt opens up short-term access to 5G spectrum

16 Dec 2019

The government has announced plans to auction off early access to the country’s 5G spectrum by auctioning off short-term national rights to an unused part of the 3.5GHz spectrum band.

The short-term rights will run for a period from mid-2020 to October 30, 2022. It will allow New Zealand telecommunications operators and Māori stakeholders to explore new opportunities and develop 5G-enabled technologies on the spectrum.

In February 2019 the government announced that the first spectrum band to be allocated for 5G services would be the 3.5 GHz band, with new long-term rights starting when existing rights in this band expire in November 2022.

However, about one half of the 3.5 GHz band is currently unallocated. The Government is allocating short-term rights to this unused portion of 3.5 GHz spectrum.

Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister, Kris Faafoi says that the early access period is a chance for the telecommunications industry to move forward with 5G, rather than waiting for long-term rights availability.

“5G offers significantly improved data speed and capacity for conventional mobile and fixed wireless broadband networks, and will enable the next wave of productivity and innovation across multiple sectors.

“Progressing with 5G will ensure New Zealand keeps pace with global developments, give us world-class connectivity, and provide a platform for exciting new applications which can improve future livelihoods and ways of life.”

The government has outlined that it will implement spectrum caps so that any single network operator cannot operate too widely on the spectrum. This is to promote competition.

Furthermore, successful bidders must also forfeit any existing rights they have in the 3.5GHz band, and they must be aware that short-term rights do not guarantee long-term access to the spectrum.

Spark New Zealand is welcoming the government’s move, and states that it intends to participate in the auction.

“Access to sufficient spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band will enable Spark to bring true mass-market 5G services to more New Zealanders as soon as possible. The Government foreshadowed this short-term allocation process earlier this year and we are pleased this will shortly occur, as it should allow Spark to launch mass deployment of 5G services as planned from mid-2020,” a statement from Spark says.

The government has also been working closely with a Māori Spectrum Working Group to provide opportunities for Māori interests in radio spectrum. These interests include digital enterprise and jobs, healthcare, rural economy and connectivity, education, broadcasting, and revitalisation of Te Reo.

Short-term allocation of spectrum will also be made to Māori, and a support programme to build Māori capability in spectrum-related industries will be developed to maximise the benefits of this opportunity.

“The short-term allocation of spectrum to Māori will act as a stepping-stone for Māori and the Crown to reach an enduring agreement which recognises Māori interests in radio spectrum,” says Faafoi.

“I am delighted we are moving forward on this, and with an inclusive approach, to create greater opportunities for all New Zealanders.”