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Spectrum planning for industry certainty

As the Australian Communications and Media Authority publishes its latest spectrum outlook, ADAM SUCKLING explains what’s on the agenda and how decisions are informed

Certainty in spectrum allocations is a universal call by incumbent and prospective spectrum holders. This includes certainty around processes, timing and spectrum priorities.

In Australia we try to provide industry with as much certainty as possible by publishing a roadmap to our decision-making priorities. The roadmap is called the five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO).

We believe that the FYSO represents world best practice in terms of providing a five-year view on our forward work programme, seeking stakeholder input (we issue a draft first) and transparency. This year we released the draft FYSO in March. We are currently seeking stakeholder views on the proposed work programme. We aim to issue a final FYSO covering 2024-29 in the new financial year.1

The debate about the future use of the upper 6 GHz spectrum, which is hotly contested between mobile and WI-FI proponents, is a good example of how we try to balance competing demands while ensuring industry is involved in, and understands, our process.

I was able to see just how contested this space is when I chaired one of the ACMA’s tune-ups, where we seek the views of a wide range of stakeholders on potential uses of bands of spectrum.  The proponents for WI-FI and mobile make their case using an array of data, compelling examples of consumer benefits and arguments on the environmental benefits of one use over another.

As Australia’s media and communications regulator with spectrum management responsibilities, we must apply the law which says we must make spectrum decisions in the public interest. This involves considering matters such as the efficient use of spectrum, facilitating use of spectrum for commercial and defence purposes and supporting government policy objectives. We also know that spectrum is a fundamental component in driving competition and productivity, in supporting existing and new businesses and in the provision of services for all Australians.

The proponents for WI-FI and mobile make their case using an array of data, compelling examples of consumer benefits and arguments on the environmental benefits of one use over another

Any good plan relies fundamentally on good inputs, informed by what is happening in the world. In drafting the FYSO roadmap we take into account developments in international and domestic technology and markets, international standards and harmonisation work, and feedback from our extensive consultations with stakeholders, including on the draft FYSO itself. In our latest draft FYSO we flag major strategic drivers such as the extraordinary developments in AI and large language models, the rapid developments in low earth orbit  (LEO) satellite technology and the continued and exploding demand for wireless broadband, as well as developments in private wireless networks.  We also look at ongoing spectrum requirements for the Australian government and government entities. For instance, our Bureau of Meteorology is the third largest spectrum holder in Australia, which it uses to run sophisticated environmental observational systems.

So, given all this, what does the draft FYSO actually say we are doing in the next five years?

In addition to work in relation to 6 GHz, some of the work includes:

  • Coming to a decision on what should happen with licences held by all Australian mobile carriers, which will start expiring between 2028 and 2032.
  • Coming to a decision on the spectrum used by broadcasters for outside news gathering, as well as spectrum used by railway operators for signalling systems, which will also expire soon.
  • Continuing with our programme of allocating mid-band spectrum. Last year we undertook two allocations which support wireless broadband networks and private wireless networks. We are currently in the process of conducting the allocation of spectrum licences in the 3.8 GHz band and will also allocate spectrum for hyper-local services later in the year.
  • Undertaking work to ensure our spectrum arrangements support the delivery of services over LEO satellites including to satellite dishes and direct to regular mobile phones.

Once the FYSO is finalised we also provide six- and 12-month work plan updates to ensure we are clear and transparent with stakeholders on meeting milestones in the FYSO.

Spectrum decisions do have the capacity to shape the future. It’s important for our purposes (allocating spectrum according to the highest value public interest) and for industry (making investment and roll out decisions) that we provide a clear roadmap to future decision making. That is what the FYSO does.

ACMA’s five-year spectrum outlook can be viewed at

Adam Suckling

Adam Suckling is a member and spectrum lead at the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

1 July 2024 to June 2025.