Optus buoyant at prospect of second 'digital dividend' for mobile broadband

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Optus buoyant at prospect of second 'digital dividend' for mobile broadband

But TV operators are cautious.

Optus has backed a government plan that would create a repeat of the “digital dividend” spectrum auctions a decade ago, where spectrum used in TV broadcasting was refarmed for cellular use.

In a media reform ‘green paper’ at the end of last year, the government proposed freeing up spectrum in the 600 MHz band and reallocating it for other uses.

It noted at the time that the spectrum could be “attractive to mobile network operators as a means to provide wide-area and inbuilding coverage across their networks.”

Industry submissions to the green paper process have slowly leaked out over the past week, with Optus providing a high-level view of its submission on Tuesday afternoon.

Vice president of regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan welcomed the prospect of a fresh “digital dividend”.

A decade ago, the first “digital dividend” was created by taking highly valuable 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz radio frequencies used for analogue television transmission and auctioning the spectrum off, mostly to mobile network operators.

“Re-allocating the undervalued 600 MHz band for critical mobile internet enables Australia [will] achieve a second digital dividend, further strengthening competitive national mobile networks, which will increasingly provide the basis for Australia’s future digital economy,” Sheridan said in a statement.

“600 MHz band is already successfully deployed as part of 5G in North America and Australia must not be left behind.”

Sheridan noted that the original digital dividend “opened up the era of high speed mobile broadband” and led to the ability to consume streaming video on mobile devices.

“A second digital dividend presents similar opportunities,” he said, adding it could “increase the breadth and quality of 5G networks today and 6G tomorrow.”

“This is particularly important for our rural and regional areas,” Sheridan added.

Free TV Australia said in a submission [pdf] of its own that the government should remain open to TV operators retaining “slightly more spectrum” for broadcasting purposes than the green paper proposes.

It also said “there are multiple pathways to deliver a potential 600 MHz dividend” that could benefit mobile operators.

“We recommend working closely with industry and other stakeholders to identify the best path forward,” it said.

“Any future planning scenarios must allow for individual broadcasters to shape their own service offerings in accordance with their own strategic and commercial considerations and meet future consumer expectations.”

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