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Optus talks up 'golden GHz' as Australia awards mmWave spectrum

Australia has allocated the vast majority of the 26 GHz spectrum it has available, raising A$647.6 million (just over US$500 million) in the process.

Mary Lennighan

April 26, 2021

3 Min Read
Optus talks up 'golden GHz' as Australia awards mmWave spectrum

Australia has allocated the vast majority of the 26 GHz spectrum it has available, raising A$647.6 million (just over US$500 million) in the process.

The spectrum went to the usual suspects, one of whom is particularly upbeat about the slice of frequencies it has acquired.

“Optus [has] secured the best and most highly valued position at the top of the spectrum band in most of the capital cities and regions, which include ‘golden GHz’ segment supported by both the 28 GHz range enabled in US and the 26 GHz range to be enabled in Australia,” the telco said, in a statement after the publication of the results.

Securing the top end of the band will allow for early access to compatible smartphones that are already available elsewhere in the world, Optus said, Further, it will enable the company to benefit from synergies with parent company Singtel, which holds similar frequencies.

Optus picked up 116 spectrum lots at a cost of A$226.2 million. The only operator to spend more was incumbent Telstra, which won 150 lots for A$276.6 million. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) successfully sold 358 of the 360 available lots between 25.1 GHz and 27.5 GHz.

In a statement designed to explain mmWave to the man in the street, Telstra CEO Andy Penn noted that integrating the new spectrum into the telco’s 5G network will bring higher speeds and greater capacity.

“Much like there was with 4G, reaching the full potential with 5G involves rolling out the network in multiple phases. Initially, we’ve focused on coverage, launching 5G to as many people as possible as fast as possible, with our 5G network already reaching almost two thirds of Australians and will reach 75% by the end of June,” Penn said, referring to the population coverage pledge Telstra made last summer.

“But this is just the start of the journey and with the addition of mmWave spectrum to our 5G you’ll really start to see its full potential,” he added.

Like Optus, Penn referred to some of the usual use cases, like driverless cars and the ability to watch sporting events using augmented reality glasses, but also mentioned more near-term benefits, such as increased data capacity and wider available of the telco’s 5G home broadband service. That last point will be particularly useful “for certain areas where the NBN might not be delivering a great experience,” Penn said. Nice little dig shoehorned in there.

While the licences come into effect in mid-2021, Telstra says the ACMA has given the go ahead for early access, so it can start using the frequencies in its network soon. It aims to launch more mmWave-capable devices during the course of this year; as it stands it can offer just one, the Telstra 5G WiFi Pro a portable hotspot device, which it launched a year ago.

The third biggest spender in the auction was – unsurprisingly – TPG Telecom, which took part as Mobile JV Pty Limited and picked up 86 frequency lots at a cost of A$108.2 million. The other two bidders were Dense Air Australia, a small cells neutral host, which secured two spectrum lots for A$28.7 million; and Perth-based ISP Pentanet, which won four lots for close to A$8 million.

“This outcome represents another significant milestone for 5G in Australia. The successful allocation of this spectrum will support high-speed communications services in metropolitan cities and major regional centres throughout Australia,” said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin. “This auction is one among a suite of licensing approaches that the ACMA has introduced in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands to encourage a wide range of innovative communications uses,” she added.

We look forward to seeing those innovative communications uses in the real world, when the time comes.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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