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CommsDay Unwired Revolution 2018

E & OE


There's been a lot of hype about 5G. And with good reason.

So with that in mind, today I'd like to cover three areas.

First, I'll talk about the Government's role in 5G. I covered this topic in my speech to this event last year. And a lot of progress has been made since then.

Second, I want then to give you a progress report on the path to 5G so far - what the Government has done, what industry has done, where the landscape has shifted since my speech last year.

Finally, I want to talk about what comes next on the road to 5G - and emphasise the central role that industry will play.

So, I'll start off with a quick refresher of where I see the Government playing a role in 5G.

There's no doubt the impact of greater connectivity, of smarter homes and cities, will be significant. Socially. Economically.

We will see new businesses, services and jobs emerge, just as we are already seeing thanks to the rollout of the NBN.

In April, at this year's CommsDay Summit, I released a working paper on 5G by the Bureau of Communications and the Arts Research.

The paper assessed how 5G-enabled goods and services may impact Australian productivity and incomes.

The Bureau estimates 5G could add up to $2,000 in gross domestic product per capita in the decade after services become operational.

This estimate of the economic benefit is likely to be conservative, in that it does not fully take into account consumer and non-market benefits.

This would include things like cost and time savings for households arising from smarter homes and cities.

The Government's role here should be doing everything we can to make it possible for industry to deliver.

In the wake of the World Cup let m outline the Government's role this way.

I see the Government's role as creating the best possible conditions for the players to excel.

It is our job to provide a level playing field.

To create the right circumstances for competition to thrive.

The regulators – as the referees – set rules which are transparent and fair, and have the ability to hand down penalties if needed.

But it is up to the players - the telco industry - to get on the field and compete.

We want to get the regulatory parameters right so that industry can continue to kick goals for customers.

In short, we want to ensure the right settings are in place to allow 5G to flourish as quickly and easily as possible.

There is no need for Government to to take a needlessly interventionist position in a fiercely competitive sector.

Mobile networks in Australia have developed commercially and organically.

We've got competitive coverage to around 99 per cent of the population. And the Government has only ever been required to play a relatively modest role through initiatives like the Mobile Black Spot Program.

And despite this modest role of Government - or perhaps because of it - Australia ranks at number one globally on the GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index.

A spectacular outcome for a nation with such a huge landmass and distributed population.

Three months after my speech to last year's Unwired Revolution event, I released the Government's 5G directions paper which identified four key actions we're committed to:

  1. making sure spectrum is available
  2. actively engaging in international standardisation processes
  3. streamlining arrangements to allow mobile carriers to deploy infrastructure more quickly, and
  4. reviewing existing telecommunications regulatory arrangements to ensure they are fit-for-purpose for the 5G era.

Which brings me to the second part of my speech: a progress update on what we've achieved so far.

Let's start with reforms to spectrum legislation.

My Department is currently in the final stages of a long-term project to rewrite our Radiocommunications Act, which is now about 25 years old.

At the time it was introduced in 1992, this was world-leading legislation.

It introduced a market-based mechanism which allowed the most coveted parts of spectrum to be allocated to their highest-value use.

Back then, no one could have predicted how rapidly our appetite for mobile technology, and therefore spectrum, would grow.

But it grew. And exponentially so.

Today, more than ever, spectrum is a highly valued resource.

In today's world, having a fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the management of, and access to, spectrum is just as important as having a fit-for-purpose telecommunications regulatory regime.

We need to ensure Australia's spectrum management framework is transparent, flexible and able to realise opportunities from technological advances like 5G.

When I spoke here last July, I had just released the public consultation package including the first exposure draft of the new Radiocommunications Bill, along with review papers on spectrum pricing and Commonwealth spectrum holdings.

The outcomes of the spectrum pricing and Commonwealth holdings review papers were published in March.

And we expect to release a second exposure draft of the Bill shortly, along with associated materials on taxation arrangements and transitional arrangements.

But while the reform process continues, the Government and responsible regulators have been getting on with the process of making 3.6 GHz spectrum available for auction.

Recognised internationally as the key band for telcos to roll out 5G networks, we are committed to bringing the 3.6 GHz band to market as quickly as possible.

In March this year I announced 125 Mhz of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band would be sold at competitive auction, paving the way for new 5G services in metropolitan and regional Australia.

A couple of weeks ago I announced competition limits for telcos seeking to bid in the auction.

These limits are designed to promote competition while ensuring this scarce spectrum is put to its highest-value use.

I have directed the ACMA to impose allocation limits of 60 MHz in metropolitan areas and 80 MHz in regional areas.

The limits were set following careful consideration of advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which consulted with relevant parties.

The ACCC recommended 60MHz limits in metropolitan areas, with the exception of Sydney and Melbourne where they recommended a 45MHz limit.

My decision is largely consistent with the ACCC's advice, except that I have decided to treat all metropolitan areas equally.

The ACCC further recommended 60MHz limits in regional areas.

Given that competition is less developed in these areas and lower population densities can make it difficult to attract telecoms investment, I decided on a limit of 80MHz.

This is designed to promote an outcome where regional Australians can access the same 5G services as metropolitan areas.

These limits account for existing spectrum holdings in the broader 3400–3700 MHz band, which is all suitable for 5G.

This means that carriers who already have significant holdings in this band will be limited in the amount of new spectrum they can bid for.

These allocation limits will allow for a competitive auction process while preventing any one bidder from acquiring an amount of spectrum which could preclude other telcos from rolling out 5G networks.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and my department are currently finalising details of the 3.6 GHz auction including lot configuration and auction methodology.

I am pleased the auction is on schedule – which is no small task – and expect it to commence later this year.

So that's the Government's first action point covered - making spectrum available.

The second action is Australia's engagement in international standardisation processes.

Across the world, standards and spectrum requirements for many new technologies, like 5G, are yet to be finalised.

We have been an active participant in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); the agency that oversees cooperation on spectrum, satellite orbits and technical standards.

Australia's support of the ITU and its predecessor dates back to 1878, and we have been an elected member of the ITU's governing council since 1959.

We recently announced Australia's intention to seek re-election to ITU's governing Council. Which is a bit like the mother of all Senate preselections.

Australian industry stakeholders – including our broadcasting, satellite and mobile service providers – are keen to play a role in the international dialogue.

That's one of the reasons Australia's continued involvement in international discussions is so important.

And why we welcome a multi-stakeholder approach, with our industry delegates an important part of our Australian negotiating team.

This involvement in the ITU is helping advance connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia recently hosted two major Asia-Pacific telecommunity meetings which were crucial for our neighbouring countries to agree on positions ahead of next year's World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC).

Regional harmonisation will impact on the availability and cost of the products used in 5G rollouts in Australia.

Through our international efforts additional spectrum for 5G above 26 GHz is on the WRC-19 agenda for consideration.

And the ITU group responsible for that agenda item is in the process of finalising its conclusions and recommended options for implementation.

The third action for Government is streamlining arrangements to allow mobile carriers to deploy infrastructure quickly.

5G will require new and different infrastructure to previous generations of mobile technology, and one of our immediate challenges is to deal with old regulations that may hamper its rollout.

So in June last year we embarked on a public consultation about possible changes to carrier powers and immunities.

Of the 24 reforms canvassed in the consultation paper, the Government has already implemented 10, and continues to work with stakeholders on a range of further reforms.

These changes will help carriers to deploy 5G infrastructure more efficiently and cost effectively.

The Government is conscious that the whole community needs to be brought along on the 5G journey, particularly in regard to the deployment of facilities.

There is a careful balance to be struck.

It is incumbent on the mobile carriers to earn the trust of the community, property owners and other levels of government so that network deployment can occur smoothly and efficiently.

So with all of this work either complete or well underway, I'd like to turn to the final section of my speech - what comes next on the road to 5G.

On the spectrum front, the most immediate next step is the 3.6 GHz auction which will provide telcos with the spectrum they need to deliver 5G services.

The ACMA is already examining future spectrum bands which could be made available for 5G, such as the 26GHz millimetre wave band which is gaining traction internationally.

I mentioned earlier that when it comes to 5G, I see the role of Government as creating the right playing field, the regulators as "the referees" and industry as "the players".

When I released the Government's 5G directions paper late last year, I also announced the establishment of a 5G working group to bring all of these roles to the same table.

This is providing a forum for ongoing dialogue between different government portfolios, telcos, regulators and businesses.

It is critical all the players engage with one another and are aware of any barriers that may hinder the take-up of 5G.

At the first working group meeting in February this year, industry agreed to explore regulatory enablers and barriers to the use of 5G in transport, agriculture and health.

This work will help inform both government and industry about the hurdles we face with 5G applications in these sectors.

Like how 5G-enabled self-driving vehicles will require reforms to road rules, and how the internet of things can make our agriculture sector more competitive.

The working group is scheduled to meet again in coming weeks.

Also on the road ahead for 5G, as I've already canvassed, are further potential reforms to carrier powers and immunities.

I am optimistic that industry has the capacity to work with property owners to come to an agreement on how to progress further reforms.

So to conclude, a lot has happened in the past 12 months. And more in the next 12 months.

All going well, I'll be back at Unwired Revolution 2019 discussing the successful completion of the 3.6 GHz auction and how early planning for the 26 GHz auction is already underway.

And I'll have posed for photos with the CEOs of major telcos switching on their 5G networks.

We will have completed the rollout of the Mobile Black Spot Program.

We will have been through the second exposure draft of the new Radiocommunications Act. And the resulting Bill will have been passed into law.

I look forward to working with you.