Communications and Information Technology Minister Amy Adams has confirmed that it is the Government’s intention to allocate the digital dividend radio spectrum in the third quarter of this year.
The allocation of the 700 MHz band of spectrum will allow the building of fourth generation (4G) mobile networks using the spectrum freed up by the switchover to digital television, enabling mobile broadband speeds up to ten times faster than today’s speeds.
Cabinet has agreed that the spectrum will be allocated through an auction, and that the spectrum will be organised in blocks according to the Asia Pacific Telecommunity band plan. Using this band plan will give New Zealanders access to a wide variety of phones and equipment.
The exact design of the auction will be confirmed in the next few months following technical consultation, and the reserve price informed by independent expert advice.
The reallocation of the 700 MHz band of the radio spectrum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, Ms Adams says.
“Indications are that by using the spectrum for 4G mobile networks, we can expect economic benefits for New Zealand of up to $2.4 billion over the next twenty years.
“The use of mobile broadband services is growing at an enormous rate in New Zealand. Fast, reliable access to mobile broadband is enabling improvements in productivity and ease of business, and providing new applications for consumers.”
The Government has also confirmed that no specific allocation of 4G spectrum will be set aside for Māori stakeholders. Instead, the Government is investigating the establishment of a $30 million ICT development fund, focussed on the way government can assist Maori leverage the potential benefits from new technologies, and promote and support the language and culture in a digital world.
“The Government recognises the importance of Māori having opportunities to participate in the ICT sector, however, in keeping with the view of successive governments that spectrum is not a taonga, in our view it does not follow that Māori require further spectrum to be set aside in order to meet our shared objectives of the protection of language and culture.”
The establishment and final form of the fund will be considered by Cabinet following the successful completion of the auction.
Will the new networks be rolled out to rural areas?
As part of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), the Government has ensured that all new towers built under the RBI are 4G-ready and that new 4G services will start to be deployed in rural areas as they are deployed in urban centres.
Will I need a new handset when the new mobile technology becomes available?
To take advantage of the new 4G technology, a new handset or device will be required but older devices will continue to work while existing networks are maintained.
Mobile operators are expected to roll out new 4G networks alongside their old 2G and 3G networks.
When will the 700MHz spectrum band be available?
The 700 MHz spectrum band will be available following the switchover to digital television. The switchover is scheduled to finish on 1 December 2013. The Government intends new rights to the spectrum to commence in January 2014, but rights-holders may be able to negotiate early access to the spectrum.
The Government has already provided some temporary licences to enable mobile operators to test 700 MHz band services.
How does New Zealand compare with its neighbours for access to these new technologies?
The decisions announced today means New Zealand is on track to be one of the first in the region to clear and reallocate the 700 MHz band for new uses and technologies.
Australia is likely to auction rights to their 700 MHz band before New Zealand, however, the spectrum in this band is unlikely to be available for use before mid-late 2014.
While some countries in the Asia-Pacific region have started to launch 4G services in other spectrum blocks, the 700 MHz band will be integral for deploying widespread services beyond major cities.
How does the selection of the Asia Pacific Telecommunity band plan align with international developments?
The Asia Pacific Telecommunity band plan has been adopted by the International Telecommunications Union.
Countries that have already committed to or are likely to adopt the band plan include Australia, Japan, Korea, India, South America and the United Arab Emirates.
Europe is also likely to consider options to enable compatibility with this band plan as part of their second digital dividend in a few years.
By aligning with the APT band plan, New Zealand has further potential to tap into larger economies and access a wide variety of handsets and network equipment at lower cost.
Has any spectrum been set aside for an emergency services mobile broadband network?
The emergency services providers have now indicated they prefer spectrum in the 800 MHz band, to better align with international developments. The exact needs will be considered at a later date.