ACMA tells power companies to use spectrum or lose it

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ACMA tells power companies to use spectrum or lose it

Smart grid industry must get its wireless response on the rails.

Tardy and disorganised utilities ran the risk of missing out on the wireless spectrum they needed to deploy a smart grid, the communications regulator warned today.

Addressing an audience of utilities and technology companies, Australian Communications and Media Authority chairman Chris Chapman said he was "concerned" that power companies were taking too long to write a co-ordinated plan to access scarce, wireless spectrum.

Chapman urged the sector to respond to the regulator's paper into the 400MHz band typically used for law enforcement and emergency services that it will publish next month.

"As the clock ticks down there are opportunities coming up and going," Chapman told delegates to the Smart Grid Forum in Sydney.

"The 400MHz paper is a reasonably definitive outline of what we're doing in that space. Use that as an industry as an excuse to write to us in a cohesive way.

"Two to three years [to develop protocols and standards] concerns me but I think you will have to accelerate that. I'm hearing that and I'm worrying about that.

"If you think that you can leave it that long you are grossly foreshortening your options."

Chapman outlined a menu of wireless spectrum choices for power companies but urged them not to snack on it; the industry had to develop a cohesive policy to take to the regulator or else it would miss out.

He said it would take utilities with "deep pockets" to "bet the farm" on the 700MHz spectrum or "digital dividend" that was handed over in the switch to digital TV and due to be fully available by the end of 2013.

"This spectrum is waterfront property because of its ability to carry over long distances, penetrate buildings and carry broadband data," he said.

"Its use for fixed infrastructure may not be the most economically efficient one.

"The energy sector could participate in an auction process but there is no guaranteed access to spectrum."

Chapman also held out access to 3.6GHz WiMax spectrum and the 900MHz unlicensed band but said the latter would present difficulties for utilities dealing with radio interference.

"Is a small part of this [3.6GHz] band useful for smart infrastructure? I urge you to speak up before it's taken for other applications."

Power utilities' best bet lay with rail companies, whose access to the 1800MHz band was up for grabs in 2013 and 2015. Utilities could seek third-party access arrangements to the spectrum that was also being used for smart grids in North America, he said.

"This may be the energy industry's smartest bid for access to spectrum," Chapman said.

"Would you chase spectrum better suited to mobiles and that is unattainable or too expensive or would 1800MHz not be just as good and a more affordable price?"

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