Saturday, December 2, 2023

5G call means full speed ahead for rural

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WISPA welcomes decision to allocate, not auction, spectrum.
WISPA spokesperson Mike Smith says the government’s decision to allocate rather than auction the new 5G spectrum is a bonus for smaller rural towns and centres.
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Rural cell phone users are likely to be among the biggest winners from the government’s decision to allocate rather than auction the new 5G mobile spectrum.

Mike Smith, spokesperson for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPA), has hailed the government’s decision to forgo the millions of dollars it could have made in a spectrum auction for a more rapid, lower cost 5G infrastructure as forward-thinking – and likely to put the tech into the hands of many communities far earlier than anticipated.

He said the allocation of spectrum will include 20% to iwi and a similar amount allocated across regional spectrum. This will include WISPA members, with the remainder going to the large mobile network operators, namely Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees.

“The key thing is this is a completely different approach,” Smith said. 

“Government will be putting some expectations around regional rollout of 5G in return for not charging for the spectrum. It also gives industry a far more affordable way to roll out 5G without the significant upfront spectrum cost you would usually expect.”

He said industry estimates based on overseas auctions are that the auction cost of the entire New Zealand 5G spectrum could have been as high as $300 million.

“This is a new way of putting the spectrum out there and the government should be applauded for making the call on this, it is an investment in long-term, 20-year-plus technology.” 

The rollout will include having the network provider Dense Air working with the government to develop 5G services in under-served areas using a networking solution that provides band access.

Smith said once the regional spectrum is announced, WISPA members – which include about 30 wireless providers – are available to use the allocation in combination to ensure 5G rollout does not set back WISPA’s ability to offer high-speed connectivity alongside it.

“There has been an ongoing concern from our organisation that too much focus on 5G mobile would limit the benefits of this band for regional NZ,” Smith said.

The lure of 5G usually lies in getting volumes of users on board, and these are typically found in larger urban areas. This initiative will ensure that this is not the key driver.

Some fast-growing rural areas, such as the Selwyn district in Canterbury, are likely to be among the first beneficiaries of the rollout, Smith said.

“The 4G is well loaded up and Selwyn is a hotspot. I would suggest it is an area that will see 5G investment sooner.”
Smith said he believes the rollout will ensure that the more than 75,000 homes and businesses that WISPA members are connected to will be better served over coming years.

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