Optus CEO Paul O’Sullivan has called on the Federal Government to release portions of the digital dividend spectrum as soon as possible in order to more easily deploy 4G mobile services.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority is set to auction off the highly valuable 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz radio frequencies - previously used for analogue television transmission - at the end of this year.
However, it is understood most of that spectrum will not be released until 2015, when all Australian regions complete switchover from analogue to digital television.
O’Sullivan this week called for spectrum release to happen sooner.
“Let me be clear, it doesn’t need to take that long,” he told a gathering of Australian Information Industry Association members in Queensland.
“We already have digital dividend spectrum sitting idle across about 40 regional towns – many in Queensland. More spectrum is becoming available every month.”
He said “early access” to the spectrum in areas where the analogue television switchover has already occured would be important in driving adoption of 4G and particularly Long Term Evolution mobile technologies.
All three major carriers are planning to launch LTE networks in 1800 MHz spectrum - previously used for 2G services - until digital dividend spectrum becomes available.
The digital dividend auction is set to garner the Federal Government some $4 billion in revenues.
“[4G is] critical to the expansion of the digital economy; it’s like going from a garden hose to a fire hose. Opening up the use of 700 megahertz spectrum will greatly increase our capacity to run high-speed wireless services in Australia,” O’Sullivan said.
A spokesman for the ACMA said the regulator would consult on when to begin licenses once draft rules are released this month but it currently proposed to begin the new licenses from January 1 in 2015.
"We are aware some prospective licensees would like to gain access to 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum as early as possible – for example, if certain areas are cleared of incumbent services earlier than other areas," he said.
"We are looking into whether this can work, and if so, how."
700 MHz trials complete
O'Sullivan's comments come as Optus completed the first Australian trial of LTE technology over the 700 MHz frequency in January.
The company achieved downlink speeds of up to 70 Mbps and uplink speeds of 32 Mbps over a five month period using a scientific license for the spectrum in Bendigo, Victoria; one of the first towns to make a full switch to digital television.
The telco used the same Huawei equipment it is deploying in Newcastle and surrounding areas as part of the first portion of its LTE network, set to go live from next month.
“Importantly, Optus also demonstrated that 4G coverage delivered on 700 MHz could be achieved over 13 kilometres from a single tower compared to around three to six kilometres using existing 4G 1800 MHz spectrum,” Optus Networks managing director Günther Ottendorfer said in a statement
“This is particularly important when deploying high speed mobile services across large distances for customers in regional Australia.”
He said the trial found no interference with local digital television signals.
Optus has previously run trials using kit from multiple vendors in cohort with parent company Singtel to determine the optimal frequency and configuration.
LTE trials run by Telstra reached speeds of up to 100 Mbps using Nokia Siemens Network equipment but the carrier ultimately awarded Ericsson the contract to roll out its commercial network.
Telstra’s LTE network, already available in capital cities and major regional centres, achieves downlink speeds of up to 40 Mbps.
Optus’ O’Sullivan today claimed the telco’s first commercial 4G network in Newcastle would be able to achieve the same speeds.
The scientific trial in Bendigo would be used to identify where Optus may eventually be able to use the 700 MHz spectrum, particularly in regional areas.
However, the scientific license does not guarantee the telco will gain a commercial license for the spectrum.
Optus is also planning commercial LTE launches in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth later this year on the back of its vividwireless acquisition, and will launch similar services in Brisbane from early next year.
Huawei kit has been used to upgrade Optus' Newcastle network but a tender for the wider rollout is yet to be issued.
Updated 7.30pm: Added comment from ACMA