VODAFONE’S chief executive has highlighted a potential issue with the way the NBN’s network in regional areas has been rolled out, saying it could prevent Australia from leading the world in 5G technology.
The telco boss used the opening address at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney this morning to take aim at Telstra and the government subsidies it receives, but also raised the issue of the type of spectrum allocated to the national broadband network to service parts of its regional network.
Vodafone chief Inaki Berroeta believes a certain band of spectrum used by the NBN to deliver regional broadband could become integral to international standards of 5G.
“It has only become clear in the last year that the spectrum bands which are by far the biggest opportunity for internationally aligned 5G services are the 3.4 to 3.7 GHz bands,” he said.
“Other possible spectrum bands do not have sufficient international alignment, and therefore risk leaving Australia unable to leverage the global technology ecosystem.”
Australia’s major telcos are currently competing to upgrade their network systems and provide solutions to usher in next generation 5G technology, a development which will prove crucial for things like self driving cars and super fast mobile broadband.
“It is fair to say that Australia could be on the leading edge of one of the most significant step changes in technological history,” the Vodafone boss said.
Harmonisation with global standards is important for enabling international roaming and ensuring Australians can take advantage of equipment and products manufactured for global sale.
The problem, as far as the major telcos see it, is that the NBN will be using the potentially critical 3.5GHz band of spectrum.
“In Australia, a large portion of this critical band has been set aside for the NBN to deliver services to 80,000 premises at the fringe of metro areas,” Mr Berroeta said.
Any changes to spectrum allocation would be a serious headache for the NBN and any customers already using the service but the Vodafone boss called for an industry discussion on the issue.
“What I am advocating is simply a discussion to identify the options. The current owners of that spectrum must be able to deliver its services, and at the same time the right spectrum has to be made available to industry to benefit from the economies of scale on international standards,” he said.
It is actually an issue Telstra has raised in the past. In a 2014 submission to the government, Telstra worried that the allocation of the 3.5GHz band to NBN Co would “constrain” the ability of mobile operators to keep pace with advancements and growing demand.
For its part, the NBN has no plan to relinquish the spectrum.
“Thousands of NBN fixed wireless end user premises are already receiving services using spectrum in the 3.5GHz band — and we plan to service thousands more end users with this spectrum in the future,” an NBN spokesperson told news.com.au.
“Our 3.5GHz spectrum is an extremely critical asset that enables us to deliver our commitment to provide access to high quality broadband to all Australians by 2020.”
It’s a major year for the industry with regulatory decisions set to be made on the potential mandating of national roaming as well as changes to the Universal Service Obligation which sees Telstra receive $300 million a year in taxpayer money to ensure telephone coverage for all Australians.
The Vodafone boss used a lion’s share of his speech to bash Telstra for anti competitive practices such as only sharing a small percentage of its regional towers (a cost sharing exercise known as co-location) and vehemently opposing domestic roaming.
Later this month the ACCC will hand down its decision on mandated domestic roaming, easily the biggest battle in the industry right now.
If the consumer watchdog introduces roaming it will mean, for example, that Vodafone customers will be able to automatically switch to the Optus or Telstra network when they travel outside of Vodafone’s mobile coverage footprint.
Vodafone has fought hard to convince the ACCC of the consumer benefits of introducing roaming while Telstra and Optus say it will have a chilling effect on investment in rural Australia.
“By investing to improve and expand our mobile network, we are able to differentiate ourselves from competitors. Regulated roaming would rob us of this point of difference and take away our incentive to invest,” Telstra told news.com.au in February.