Australia will shelve investigations of dynamic spectrum access (DSA) for future 5G and wireless networks after the idea failed to gain traction with industry.
DSA is a radio spectrum utilisation technique that allows spectrum to be shared by a number of parties based on their immediate need for it.
The technique usually operates on a tiered or hierarchical basis, such that incumbent users of the spectrum have the highest priority, ensuring existing services aren’t adversely impacted by newcomers.
DSA is backed by an international lobby and is being pushed as a way to efficiently allocate finite 5G spectrum, while expanding the number of operators able to enter the market.
However, there are limited production uses of DSA.
Additionally, as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has now found, there’s also limited interest from the mobile telcos and NBN Co in a model where others might start using their licensed spectrum, even in places where they aren’t using that spectrum themselves.
The ACMA was already aware of DSA’s challenges when it first asked the question of industry in August last year.
However, it took until late May 2020 to formally de-prioritise its investigation of DSA techniques.
“While there is momentum in some international jurisdictions, and we recognise general interest in the Australian market, the ACMA has not received any detailed sharing proposals for consideration,” the ACMA said.
“Therefore, given the existing spectrum options available to prospective licensees, and noting the current limited interest in sharing, the ACMA does not intend to prioritise the development of a formal, ongoing DSA regime at this time.
“The ACMA remains open to supporting industry-led trials of non-traditional spectrum sharing arrangements such as DSA.”
NBN Co said it supported the ACMA’s investigation of DSA but said the spectrum used for its fixed wireless and satellite network “is generally not suited to proposed dynamic spectrum access techniques.”
“This is noting, for example, that tolerance to interference is low given contractual obligations and customer experience expectations and use is neither itinerant or sporadic in nature,” NBN Co said.
“Further, certainty of tenure and the technical capabilities of spectrum (including availability and resulting impact on product performance) are important considerations given the long term and high-cost nature of NBN Co’s fixed wireless and satellite network planning decisions.”
Telstra said “the actual benefits of DSA, its economic impact on incumbents and new entrants alike, and its ability to meet user expectations, remains to be seen.”
In particular, Telstra warned, “the rights to exclusively use ... spectrum must not be diluted by a regulator subsequently introducing sharing systems that would dynamically allow other users to enter that spectrum.”
“Considering the substantial investments involved, it is paramount that spectrum licensees are able to manage any sharing of their spectrum on their own terms,” Telstra said.
“This is also critical for new allocation and licences in the future that are intended to enable similar large scale investments.”
Vodafone Australia agreed that “there may be limited utility in the ACMA pursuing new proposals for spectrum sharing without first identifying a specific need for it.”
“As the ACMA points out, traditional techniques will continue to be the most appropriate in the vast majority of circumstances for a long time yet,” Vodafone said.
Optus suggested that the ACMA “should maintain a watching brief on developments in overseas markets until benefits and drawbacks of various non-traditional sharing techniques are available.”
“Decision-making of this kind should be based on evidence, so a measured approach is required,” it said.