NBN Co 'open' to alternative use of its 5G spectrum

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NBN Co 'open' to alternative use of its 5G spectrum

Migration costs could be bigger than they appear on paper.

NBN Co says it is “open” to discussions on how its valuable 3.5GHz spectrum holdings could be opened to commercial 5G use.

CEO Bill Morrow told the company’s half-year results briefing today that NBN Co was not “religiously” tied to deploying its fixed wireless network in any one particular way.

That could open the door to an alternative model raised by Vodafone, where NBN fixed wireless could be migrated into adjacent bands, and its spectrum re-auctioned, with some of the proceeds used to pay NBN Co’s migration costs.

Morrow said the model could “possibly” be technically and economically feasible.

“The difficulty is it’s very easy on paper to assume [you can] go migrate this over,” he said.

“There are so many things that are possible. It comes down to cost, the time to do so, and the disruption that it causes to the end users that are out there.

“But we don’t hold any kind of religion to a certain way of doing this. If there’s a better way to do it and more of the spectrum can be leveraged in other ways then we’d be open to those discussions.”

NBN Co’s hold over 75MHz of 3.4GHz and 3.5GHz spectrum faces a fresh challenge this year as the band is seen as an internationally-standardised home for 5G services.

iTnews revealed last week that Telstra and NBN Co had valued similar spectrum at auction at between 16 and 64 times higher than what NBN Co will pay for its existing large-scale holdings.

Vodafone - which first challenged NBN Co on the issue last year - has suggested either re-auctioning the spectrum or charging NBN Co a much higher price for it.

Re-auctioning it would depend on whether NBN Co’s fixed wireless antennas could be shifted into cheaper adjacent bands.

However, Morrow suggested separately today that adjacent spectrum might not be an option for all parts of the fixed wireless network.

“These are far more remote, less dense areas that we’re serving with fixed wireless technology,” he said.

“If that spectrum wasn’t there we’d have to go into a fixed line-type deployment and that would really drive up the cost along with the time [to roll out the network].”

Morrow said he believed NBN Co’s use of the 3.5GHz spectrum had been “appropriate” to date, given it had been granted to the company back in 2014 “to serve a purpose for the nation”.

However, he acknowledged that times had changed and the spectrum was now significantly more valuable than when NBN Co first acquired rights to it.

“There’s a lot of people quite interested in how 5G is going to roll out, the spectral demands behind this, and whether this lower band at 3.5GHz is more valuable than the millimetre-wave spectrum,” Morrow said.

“The reality is it is more valuable than what it was before with the recent [changes] within 5G [standards].”

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