Reliable regional connections hang in balance

ACMA 5G spectrum auction proposal criticised by wireless providers (WISPs)


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Wayde Girdler on his parent's "Westward Downs" property, west of Packsaddle. The Girdlers suffer with poor mobile coverage, but are holding off making the switch to the NBN due to the slew of bad reports from neighbours who have signed up.

Wayde Girdler on his parent's "Westward Downs" property, west of Packsaddle. The Girdlers suffer with poor mobile coverage, but are holding off making the switch to the NBN due to the slew of bad reports from neighbours who have signed up.

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Telco regulator and wireless internet providers search for common ground in 5G network debate

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Bush businesses are demanding the telecommunications regulator rethink its plans to bring in the new wave of mobile networks with 5G technology, saying regional internet access will suffer as telcos make hay.

The responsible agency, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is showing new signs of listening.

ACMA advised Communications Minister Mitch Fifield the best way to accommodate 5G, which is expected by 2020, is to auction a range of frequencies, known as spectrum, in the 3.6 gigahertz band sometime later this year.

The 3.6GHz band is used by wireless internet service providers (WISPs) that service customers stuck in the gaps of major telcos and the National Broadband networks. Bush businesses in particular depend on them for reliable internet access and upload speeds.

It can take two weeks to download bank documents, sign them and send them back - Makhalia Girdler

ACMA plans to allocate spectrum in the 5.6GHz band to accommodate wireless providers, which the WISPs contend offers are too few available licences and that it is too expensive for them to adapt or buy new equipment to operate in the new band.

This week an ACMA spokeswoman said the shift to 5.6GHz was contingent on the outcome of further planning and stakeholder consultation that takes into account the “variety of services and locations where WISPs operate”.

Related: Govt wifi auction a threat to regional communities

ACMA is considering splitting spectrum licences into three zones, with one covering all regional of regional Australia, arguing that breaking up a wide ranging regional spectrum into smaller lots may prevent prevent telcos from investing in any regional networks altogether.

Wireless providers have argued large telcos would lock out smaller players as they snap up licences with an eye to servicing large regional centres, but like with the current 4G network, relatively sparsely populated smaller towns and rural areas would be ignored.

ACMA’s spokeswoman said it had not finalised its decision and was considering alternatives, such as “disaggregated” licences covering smaller areas and another round of public consultation is planned in coming months.

Wireless providers have pinned their hopes to new ‘dynamic spectrum access’ technology that they say removes the need for “monopoly licences.

It can allocate access within the band to networks when required  – allowing multiple providers to share the band.

ACMA said dynamic access would favour bigger players over small providers.

Wireless Internet Providers Association of Australia Lynda Summers dismissed ACMA’s offer to consult on disaggregated licences.

“ACMA are not listening to regional businesses, only the big end of town,” she said.

The 3.6GHz spectrum auction must abandoned and replaced by a sharing plan “as the rest of the world is doing”.

“We can’t risk yet another telecommunications debacle in the country areas… The sharing model is innovative and visionary and will produce results. Isn’t that in the national interest?”   

ACMA has proposed “unprecedented” transitional arrangements for the WISPs, including a seven year period of ongoing access to the 3.6GHz spectrum, which it argued is beyond the lifespan of current technology.

A spokeswoman for Mr Fifield said he would carefully consider ACMA’s recommendation, including the implications for regional Australians, before making a decision.

Reliable network needed at Packsaddle

LIFE’s busy for the Girdler family at “Westward Downs”, 50 kilometres west of Packsaddle, but their internet connection is flat out like a lizard drinking.

Lance and Makhalia run a large grazing enterprise and the Bush Budgie rural contracting business.

Like son Wayde (pictured) they scratch their heads over connection speed and how a slight breeze or heatwave throws their mobile internet lifeline out. 

“It can take two weeks to download bank documents, sign them and send them back,” Makhalia said.

“If we had a mobile connection across the property we could operate our bores and solar pumps from the house, without having to travel 30km to the nearest bore to check it.” 

There has been no rain worth speaking of for the past 18 months and maintaining and managing watering points is now more of a priority than ever.

“It’s a time management thing. It takes 6 hours to do a water run on one and we have properties,” Makhalia said.

Wayde Girdler on his parent's "Westward Downs" property, west of Packsaddle. The Girdlers suffer with poor mobile coverage, but are holding off making the switch to the NBN due to the slew of bad reports from neighbours who have signed up.

The story Reliable regional connections hang in balance first appeared on Farm Online.

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