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Battle Begins For mmWave 5G Spectrum

Australia’s fastest 5G spectrum is officially up for grabs and telcos, satellite firms and communication providers are jostling to get their piece of the pie.

Having kicked off on Monday, the auction for this spectrum – known as millimetre wave, or mmWave – is looking to be a battle between bidders over the forthcoming weeks.

Telstra and Optus each began their 5G rollout last year, promising data download speeds in the hundreds of megabits per second. Those speeds have not been happening though – inconsistency occurs because 5G requires denser transmission infrastructure compared to existing 4G networks.

At first, Australia didn’t act on claiming this premium end of the 5G spectrum, which is capable of overall data transfer speeds up to 4,000 Mbps, or 4Gbps. This spicy spectrum is now up for grabs.

Investment bank JPMorgan expects the auction will raise almost $370 million for the Australian government.

It expects the bulk of the spectrum to be taken up by the three main network operators — Telstra, Optus and TPG-Vodafone — and “used predominantly for the development of fixed wireless offerings to compete with NBN broadband”.

Millimetre wave behaves differently to the standard 5G spectrum. Yes, it’s ridiculously fast but it has a shorter-range signal that’s more sensitive to obstacles and interference. Where it shines is its wireless data speeds over smaller areas with very low delay or latency, and its ability to handle large traffic volumes.

Where there’s a con, there’s also a pro; the same spectrum can be used repeatedly at different locations.

mmWave makes a strong case for mass use, as this network would allow thousands of people to stream video or use an app simultaneously with less likelihood of network blockages.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority last year announced successful companies for an initial round of 26 GHz mmWave in specific areas.

They are Telstra, Optus, NBN, Nokia, Vocus and Opticomm, rural and regional providers MarchNet, Dreamtilt and Field Solutions Group, and satellite providers OneWeb Satellite constellation, Space X Starlink, Inmarsat, 03B/SES, New Skies Satellites/SES and Viasat.

ACMA member James Cameron said the mmWave spectrum would give businesses and services access to a wide range of new services. “It is important for smart farming, robotics, telemedicine and other emerging technologies which will increase Australia’s productivity,” he said.

ACMA declined to provide a list of the pre-registered bidders for the auction, saying they were confidential.

“The ACMA does not prescribe who can apply to take part in the auction or what the spectrum is to be used for,” a spokesman said on Monday.

“As long as applicants satisfy all application and registration requirements, anyone can take part in the auction.”

The auction is being held online. ACMA said it could not predict how long the auction would last.

ACMA plans to hold a separate auction for low band 5G spectrum later this year for broader coverage of 5G services.

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