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Digital Dividend announcement may be ‘imminent’

Digital Dividend announcement may be ‘imminent’

AMTA expects the government next week to reveal more about the timing of the 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz auction.

An announcement on timing of the Digital Dividend spectrum auction is expected early next week, said Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO, Chris Althaus. The auction will reallocate Australia’s 700MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum.

Althaus expects the announcement from Senator Stephen Conroy will shed light on timing of the Digital Dividend spectrum auction and other details, Althaus told Computerworld. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has said previously that the Digital Dividend auction will take place in late 2012.

“That announcement is imminent” and “could easily be in the first half” of the week starting 18 June, Althaus said. “In addition to the announcement, we are expecting a follow-up discussion paper” by ACMA that may include auction rules, he said.

The office of Conroy, minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy, didn’t immediately comment on the timing of the announcement.

When broadcasters move to digital television and turn off their analog signals at the end of 2013, they will return 2x45MHz (45MHz uplink plus 45 MHz down) of spectrum in the 700MHz band to the government. Those frequencies and another 2x70MHz in the 2.5GHz band -- used by broadcasters for electronic news gathering -- will be auctioned together at the end of 2012. Wireless carriers seeking to expand and upgrade their mobile networks are expected to be the top bidders.

Once auctioned, the Digital Dividend spectrum should be cleared and ready for wireless carriers to use by January 2015, Althaus said. “We would expect the industry would be looking to really start using it straight up.”

For mobile consumers and businesses, the Dividend means new services and better coverage, capacity and performance, Althaus said.

“Especially when you get into rural Australia, the 700MHz band is good because you get a fair amount of coverage,” said Telsyte analyst Chris Coughlan. The auction will allow carriers to bring LTE 4G service into rural areas, he said.

The wireless market is showing “unprecedented levels of growth, particularly in mobile data,” Althaus said. Australia has over 30 million mobile subscriptions for about a 22 million population, he said. Data volumes are doubling every 12 months and customer expectations for level of service are increasing, he said. Acquiring new spectrum is key to meeting that demand, he said.

Spectrum available through the Digital Dividend probably won’t be enough to meet customers’ demand for data in the long term, Althaus said. “We’ve seen analysis by ACMA that suggests by 2015, you could logically reach the conclusion that this market needs about another 150MHz of spectrum and by 2020 another 150MHz again.

“There probably will be problems between now and 2015 when [wireless carriers] get the spectrum,” Coughlan said. “They’re all facing issues in terms of keeping ahead of demand.”

At minimum, the Digital Dividend auction should raise between $3.8 billion and $4 billion, Coughlan said. If all three national carriers are actively bidding against each other, “chances are it could be higher.”

Althaus declined to estimate on how much revenue the auction would raise but noted there has been “a lot of speculation.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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