The ACMA: delivering the future

Australian Communications and Media Authority

By James Cameron, Full-Time Authority Member, ACMA
Monday, 10 September, 2018


The ACMA: delivering the future

Technological change, streamlining regulation and encouraging secondary spectrum markets are firmly on the agenda.

Spectrum has become a key enabler of the digital economy. It paves the way for a future Internet of Things connected by 5G, by LoRa technology, by terrestrial and satellite wireless links. These developments foreshadow a profound transformation of the world in which we live and what many are now calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. If there is to be a revolution, we all need to be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that it will present.

The ACMA is preparing for that disruptive change and has an ambitious spectrum reform program ahead of it. This is the result of changes to government policy that will bring about new radiocommunications legislation that will move away from prescriptive primary provisions. These changes will put the ACMA at the forefront of implementing future reforms and creating spectrum management arrangements.

Based on the exposure draft released last year, a new Radiocommunications Act, if passed by the parliament, would establish a single licensing framework. The exposure draft proposes removing the existing legislative distinctions between kinds of licence, imposing fewer statutory licence conditions and streamlining equipment regulation, while also introducing more graduated interference management and enforcement powers.

There would also be a greater ability for third parties to manage spectrum, to settle interference concerns and for licensees to choose how to use their spectrum with less involvement from the regulator.

Our prime goal in preparing to implement these government reforms is to ensure that spectrum management maximises the economic and social benefits and opportunities that new technologies can deliver to all Australians. To achieve this, there needs to be a conversation between the regulator implementing reform and the industry that is to benefit from it.

Our conversation with industry started last year with the release of ACMA supporting material as part of the Department of Communication’s consultation about the Exposure Draft of the Radiocommunications Bill. RadComms 2017 — our flagship spectrum management conference — provided us with the opportunity to engage more deeply with industry through workshops on radiocommunications licensing, equipment rules and interference management. The department is now working towards the release of a second exposure draft and the ACMA is working to ensure that RadComms 2018 — to be held in Sydney in October — is again an opportunity to share our thinking, hear industry views and understand concerns as well as the opportunities ahead.

It is worth reiterating that the ACMA is not just planning for 5G, not just for mobile broadband and not just for wireless broadband. By pursuing a wider strategy and work program about the spectrum being made available for a range of radiocommunications, our aim is to hand to industry greater freedom to decide which generation of technology to deploy, in which band and at what time. Most importantly, our approach provides industry with greater freedom to decide the services that it will offer to its customers.

With this freedom comes responsibility. We will increasingly look to the holders of valuable spectrum to make the most of it themselves. It means doing what we can to help the secondary market deliver on the trading and consolidation of spectrum holdings that are seriously fragmented and therefore underutilised.

Head-and-shoulders image of James Cameron

James Cameron, Full-Time Authority Member, ACMA

Increasingly, demand for spectrum in many bands is contested, including, but not limited to, those bands sought by mobile network operators. And the case for the regulator to reallocate spectrum away from other users is weakened when there are current holdings that can be more efficiently utilised. Secondary market trading to achieve more efficient holdings is not necessarily easy or quick — it will need industry to take a lead and it will require market participants to identify common objectives. But a sector hungry for new spectrum will be more effective in demonstrating the case for those difficult changes affecting spectrum that other people are already using, when they can show that they are actively working to optimise use of their own, existing holdings.

There are clearly opportunities for secondary trading or other commercial arrangements to optimise the use of allocations below 1 GHz as well as around 3.5 GHz. While we recognise the challenges for licensees in negotiating with their commercial rivals, this is a conversation that needs to take place and which the ACMA will seek to revitalise and reinvigorate at RadComms 2018. And wherever a case can be made that further ACMA action is necessary, before industry has the flexibility it needs to optimise spectrum configuration through trades, we will be giving that work appropriate priority in our annual published work program.

As spectrum becomes increasingly important, RadComms and the ACMA’s broader consultation initiatives — from our annually updated Five Year Spectrum Outlook and annual work program, to the industry ‘Tune-ups’ we organise on specific issues — will increasingly become critical for the radiocommunications industry. I welcome your participation and contributions.

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RadComms 2018

RadComms 2018 will be held at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney, from 30–31 October with the theme of ‘Delivering the future’. The flagship forum for the Australian radiocommunications sector, RadComms attracts a wide range of expert participants from industry, academia and government. Topics for discussion this year will include the continuing progress of 5G, transformational developments such as the establishment of the Australian Space Agency and a major national investment in a Space Based Augmentation System that will dramatically improve location information and positioning services across Australia.

For more information and to register, visit the RadComms 2018 website (https://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/About/Events/Radcomms).

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