Optus, Telstra, TPG press for 'partnership' in $22m 5G test case race

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Optus, Telstra, TPG press for 'partnership' in $22m 5G test case race

Govt explores guidelines for co-investment.

Optus has asked the government to make partnering with a telco a prerequisite to secure funding under a forthcoming $22.1 million program to find new enterprise and industrial use cases for 5G.

The government has committed to two initial rounds of the ‘Australian 5G innovation initiative’ under its $74 billion JobMaker plan announced in June last year.

With the 5G initiative currently under design, Australia’s three mobile network operators (MNOs) - Optus, Telstra and TPG Telecom - are all pushing the case for partnership to be a key criteria for applicants to get access to the government funding.

Optus is the most public of the three in pushing for MNO involvement in funded projects, expressing alarm at the prospect of projects being funded “without any involvement from an MNO”.

“Optus has been concerned to note preliminary feedback which suggests the initiative might be structured in such a way that applications for projects could be progressed without any involvement from an MNO,” it said in a submission. [pdf]

“This would be ill-advised, as MNOs have existing expertise, infrastructure, and access to spectrum. 

“There is a real risk that the funding under this initiative may be exhausted on niche projects that have no pathway to scalability, or granted to applicants that are not in the business of networks and are not equipped to consider 5G as a holistic technology solution.

“Strong participation by the MNOs will likely produce better results and a better return for taxpayer funding.

“The government should consider the suitability of framing … partnership as a requirement in all applications to the initiative.”

Optus also pressed the case for “minimum quotas of projects” to be “awarded to MNOs who lodge compliant applications”.

Optus is not alone in pressing the case for partnership with a telco to be a key criteria to secure government funding.

Communications officials noted on December 23 last year [pdf] that “the telecommunications industry saw significant potential in joint applications.” 

“Telstra noted that ‘partnerships will be an integral component of any grant applications that demonstrate new, compelling uses of 5G’; in particular, Telstra identified that joint applications will be critical for bringing together different aspects of emerging technologies and will be necessary to demonstrate the full potential of 5G,” the government noted. 

“Optus and TPG Telecom also raised the importance of working with the telecommunications sector as a partner to deliver high quality projects in a timely manner”, it added, saying some of this commentary came directly from an industry workshop.

Optus argues that any 5G trial will ultimately require infrastructure and spectrum to check that it can scale - and that trialists should use existing 5G networks, rather than spend any government money building their own, in order to prove their concept scales appropriately.

In its own submission [pdf], Telstra similarly argues that government funding should not be spent on “the deployment of 5G infrastructure or testbeds”, but instead be concentrated on developing new use cases for 5G.

Part of the argument stems from the relatively small amount of money on offer for the scheme, with funded projects likely to fall into the $500,000 to $1 million range, though various parties had sought slices of between $200,000 and $2 million through the initial consultation process.

The government is currently formulating the guidelines for grant funding and expects to make them available - as well as open applications - early this year.

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