ACMA takes aim at 5G innovation with class licensing updates

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) hopes to support new innovative technologies and wireless data communications systems, including those underpinning 5G, with a range of fresh updates to the country’s class licensing arrangements.

The ACMA’s proposed variation to Australia’s Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence came into effect on 19 August, with the new licensing arrangements expected to support new technology applications and “bring Australia into line with international arrangements”.

Among the changes, which are contained in the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence Variation 2019 (No. 1), are new arrangements for ‘all transmitters’ in the 57–64 GHz band aimed at supporting new interactive motion sensing technology that operates in this particular frequency range and can be used to enable touchless control of device functions or features.

Other changes include an expansion of frequency range for 60 GHz (57–66 GHz) data communication systems to now cover 57–71 GHz, for both indoor and outdoor usage, which the ACMA suggests will support wireless gigabit systems with applications such as backhaul for 5G and Wi-Fi.

The updates also saw the revision of arrangements for underground transmitters in certain bands, a move designed to support fixed and mobile services from 70–520 MHz to provide improved support for underground activities, such as mining.

Additionally, the new class licensing variation includes a revision of arrangements for radars in the 76–77 GHz frequency band in order to provide support for radar use in rail crossing and road safety applications.

There are also new arrangements for ground and wall penetration radar (30–12,400 MHz) to facilitate the usage of applications across a variety of industry sectors, such as agriculture, railways and underground pipe detection in the telecommunication industry.

Some of the new changes also work to align existing arrangements for ultra-wideband devices with United States and European arrangements for generic, indoor and outdoor devices operating in 3,100–3,400 MHz and 8,500–9,000 MHz ranges, along with aircraft applications (6,000–8,500 MHz), aimed at further supporting the use of such devices in Australia.

The ACMA first put the call out to industry for comment and feedback on its proposed updates to class licensing arrangements in December 2018. The updates were to be implemented by varying the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2015 (LIPD Class Licence).

Now that the updates are in effect, the ACMA invites further suggestions from industry and individuals on devices and technologies for “possible future updates” to class licensing arrangements of the Low Interference Potential Devices Class Licence. 

GlobalData: T-Mobile, Sprint merger rescued by Dish Network

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By GlobalData Senior Analyst Tammy Parker

Following news that the US Department of Justice has approved the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, Tammy Parker, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, offers her view on the impact on the US mobile sector

“T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion takeover of Sprint took a giant step forward, thanks to an unlikely rescue from Dish Network, which pulled a rabbit out of its hat to set itself up as a fourth national wireless operator and retain spectrum that it was likely going to have to hand back to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Rival mobile operators are likely breathing a sigh of relief. Although the new T-Mobile is gaining scale that will enable it to compete more aggressively, the entry of Dish as a fourth national operator is not a significant threat.

Dish has no track record in building out a nationwide wireless network or conducting business as a wireless MVNO or network operator. Furthermore, it has the distraction of dealing with the ongoing decline of its core satellite pay-TV business as customers shift to over-the-top streaming services.

The deal with Dish Network is a tremendous victory for T-Mobile and Sprint, which now expect to complete their merger before year’s end. Though T-Mobile is giving up Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum and the Boost, Virgin Mobile and Sprint prepaid brands to Dish in exchange for $5 billion, T-Mobile will get to keep all of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz and PCS spectrum, which is key to its ambitious 5G rollout plans.

It will also potentially be able to lease some or all of DISH’s 600 MHz spectrum to flesh out coverage.  The agreement is also a face-saving win for Dish Network, which could be forced to relinquish certain spectrum licenses it holds if it does not meet network buildout requirements by March 2020.

Dish now has leverage to convince the Federal Communications Commission to modify terms of Dish’s spectrum licenses to enable it to build out a 5G broadband network capable of serving 70 percent of the U.S. population by June 2023.

However, T-Mobile and Sprint still need merger approval from the California PUC, and they need to convince opposing state attorneys general to give their blessings to their merger and drop a multi-state lawsuit opposing it. Furthermore, numerous Democratic presidential contenders are lined up to oppose this deal and will do their best to drum up public opposition in coming weeks.”

Vodafone Australia concedes it misled customers over direct billing service

Vodafone Australia has become the third local telco to be hit by the Australian competition watchdog over direct billing services.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said on 16 July that Vodafone Australia had admitted to making false or misleading representations about its now defunct third-party Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) service.

Similar to services previously offered by Telstra, Optus and other telcos, Vodafone’s DCB service let the telco’s customers purchase online software and services from third parties, with the charges for that digital content then billed directly to Vodafone customers’ accounts.

According to the ACCC, Vodafone’s DCB service was automatically enabled on its customers’ mobile accounts, meaning purchases could occur in just a couple of clicks, without any identity verification, and be charged back to customers’ next Vodafone bill.

It should be noted that the content was marketed and provided by third parties who paid Vodafone a commission for sales to end customers.

According to the ACCC, Vodafone likely breached the ASIC Act from at least 2015 by charging consumers for content they had not agreed to buy or bought unknowingly.

Vodafone has offered up a court enforceable undertaking that compels it identify, contact and refund customers from as far back as January 2013 who complained either directly to the telco or via the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about the DCB service.

According to the court enforceable undertaking, published by the ACCC, Vodafone was aware of issues with its DCB service from at least February 2015. These included a two-fold increase in revenue but a three-fold increase in complaints about the DCB service received in the 2014-15 financial year, compared to the year prior.

Moreover, according to the undertaking document, Vodafone agrees that from at least February 2015, it was aware that the operation of its DCB service had led to customers unintentionally purchasing DCB content without their knowledge or consent.

The ACCC, which carried the investigation into Vodafone’s DCB service under a delegation of the Australian corporate regulator’s powers, said that Vodafone began phasing out DCB subscriptions in mid-2015 in response to an increase in complaints about the service, cancelling its arrangements with some third-party content providers.

However, according to the ACCC, customers could still be charged for one-off purchases without any identity verification until March 2018.

“Through this service, thousands of Vodafone customers ended up being charged for content that they did not want or need, and were completely unaware that they had purchased,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. “Other companies should note, money made by misleading consumers will need to be repaid.”

While Vodafone follows Optus and Telstra in being pulled up by the competition watchdog over its direct billing service, it appears to have avoided being slapped with the $10 million fine the two larger telcos were handed over representations relating to their respective direct billing services.

In February, after action by the ACCC, the Federal Court ordered Optus pay a $10 million fine for its “treatment of customers” who unknowingly purchased games, ringtones and other digital content through its third-party billing service. Additionally, Optus committed to refunding affected customers.

Last year, the Federal Court ordered Telstra to pay a $10 million fine for making false or misleading representations to customers in relation to its third-party billing service known as “Premium Direct Billing” (PDB). Telstra also agreed to refund affected customers.

‘Network slicing to be instrumental in driving 5G evolution’ says AMTA CEO

Amid increasingly breathless worldwide next generation mobile rollout claims and closer to home, Telstra’s announcement it’s offering 5G services in selected areas, Telecom Times was fortunate to chat with Chris Althaus, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.

Telecom Times –  For enterprise, what will be the single game changing opportunity of 5G in the near term?

Chris Althaus – 4G and 5G will work together with new innovations being developed over time and both greatly expanding and diversifying the market. A standout feature of 5G is the ability to be able to ‘slice the network’ to create specific network solutions for specific industries.

The network slicing ability will be instrumental in leading the 5G evolution towards a better-connected future and new technological capabilities which will help transform businesses by enabling efficiencies that will boost productivity to further enhance the mobile sector’s already significant contribution to the economy.

TT  How do you gauge the preparedness of business and enterprise in Australia in terms of capitalising on the opportunities around the rollout of 5G?

CA – Australia is a global leader in 5G, this leadership position in partnership with general market awareness of mobile technology means that the level of business preparedness is high, with Deloitte research showing that the vast majority of businesses are aware and planning for 5G.

However, the rollout of 5G solutions continues to develop as we are still in the early days of its evolution. It’s important to understand that 4G and 5G will work in partnership with new 5G innovations being developed over time, so there is an enormous opportunity for businesses to be using 4G and advanced 4G now and ultimately allow for a seamless transition to 5G.

TT –  Can you nominate any particular local challenges around this and some instances of how these have been addressed well and less well in your view?

CA – The two key components for a successful 5G rollout are to have allocation of the right spectrum and a clear path for efficient network deployment. Currently the spectrum situation has been largely defined for the first 5G bands.

In addition to spectrum, AMTA’s immediate focus is on mobile network deployment and to ensure the pathways to delivery are as efficient as possible to enable a successful rollout of 5G.

We’ve been working closely with government agencies who are engaging to understand the rollout of 5G and the appropriate regulatory settings.

As with any evolution to a new generation network, we understand that some people may have concerns. For example, in relation to health matters the underlying technologies and radio frequencies (RF) and associated standards cover 5G just as they do previous generations.

In addition, there is a huge body of scientific evidence and official agencies including the World Health Organisation, Department of Communications, ACMA and ARPANSA, recognise that there are no adverse health outcomes associated with 5G or any previous mobile generation.

The challenge now is to ensure ongoing progress in deployment of 5G to enable Australia to remain a world leader and benefit from the new opportunities and efficiencies that will be enabled by 5G. This enabling ability will help streamline processes, enhance productivity and boost the economy.

TT –  Can you pinpoint any glaring omissions or ‘tricks missed’ in this process?

CA – Not at this point in time. It is early days in the evolution and as part of that the industry and government are identifying challenges as they arise but there is nothing glaring at this stage.

TT –  Do you expect the role of AMTA to change significantly in the wake of the 5G rollout?

CA –  The role of AMTA won’t change significantly in the wake of the 5G rollout, just as when we transitioned from 3G to 4G, our role to represent the industry remains the same.

The pathway from 4G to 5G however, will significantly broaden the range of stakeholders we work with because of the extension and opportunities that 5G provides. This diversification will make mobile directly relevant for many more industries and expand the role of the mobile sector.

A recent report commissioned with AMTA and Deloitte Access Economics, called Mobile Nation 2019 – the 5G Future, underlines the importance of the mobile sector as a major contributor to the Australian economy, supporting nearly $23 billion of Australia’s GDP.

However, by 2023, with the rollout of 5G, mobile enabled technologies are set to boost Australia’s productivity to be worth $65 billion – which highlights the expected expansion of the role of mobile technologies, not just across businesses but within our daily lives.

TT –  For enterprise more broadly and mobile operators specifically, do you see any near-term opportunities which some key players might not even be aware of?

CA – The industry, particularly mobile operators, are on a learning curve when it comes to 5G and the business models that will be needed in a 5G era. The 5G rollout has begun and there is a huge opportunity for the mobile industry to expand significantly by pursuing much more direct and integrated partnerships with customers than ever before – a key to expansion will be through these partnerships with industry customers.

Telstra gets set to cut 10,000 contractors

At least 10,000 Telstra contractors are expected to be cut over the next two years as part of the telco’s far-reaching T22 transformation program, according to the company’s CEO Andy Penn.

“By June 30 we expect to have announced around 75 percent of our direct workforce reductions,” Penn said at a Morgan Stanley Summit on 4 June. “Over the past year we have also reduced our indirect workforce by 5,000 and we would anticipate reducing this further by over 25 percent in the next two years.”

Telstra’s T22 strategy is aimed at improving the telco’s underlying earnings in an increasingly dynamic, competitive market and, in large part, mitigating the impact to the telco of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

When the T22 strategy was first announced in June last year, the company flagged it would result in 9,500 total job losses in addition to 1,500 new jobs created, leading to a net reduction of roughly 8,000 direct employees and contractors over the following three years.

In February this year, when Telstra announced its results for the six months ending December 2018, Penn updated shareholders on the company’s T22 progress, noting that, in addition to the culling of roughly 8,000 employees, the 40,000-strong workforce of Telstra’s industry partners that provide a range of services would also be affected.

“We are also continuing to target non-direct labour,” Penn said at the time. “This includes some of our indirect workforce. Our industry partners who provide technology, consultancy and other services have a workforce of approximately 40,000 supporting Telstra.

“As we simplify our business and optimise costs, we expect the total number of people our partners employ to work on our business to decline. The indirect workforce is also expected to decline as a proportion of our overall workforce,” he said.

As reported by the Australian Financial Review on 4 June, Penn’s latest estimate regarding Telstra’s indirect workforce equates to an expected cull of at least 10,000 contractors, with the telco looking at reducing its total direct and indirect workforce by close to 20,000 roles by 2022.

However, Penn has readily acknowledged potential impact on workers, both direct and indirect, flagging that the company has put some effort into providing support for affected workers.

“The human dimension of these numbers is very challenging.  That is why we have an extensive program of support in place,” Penn said at the Morgan Stanley Summit.

Telstra base station warning: “We didn’t get it right this time”

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has cautioned Telstra, after it was found to have failed to comply with rules governing the deployment of mobile phone base stations in Australia.

The formal warning, which effectively puts Telstra on notice to minimise the risk of future breaches and ensure regulatory compliance, comes after an investigation by the country’s communications industry regulator into the telco’s rollout of mobile network infrastructure at a site in Canberra, evidently without adequate community consultation.

The ACMA investigated the company after a resident made a complaint. The investigation revealed that Telstra had contravened sections of the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code in at least three ways.

According to the ACMA, Telstra failed to fully comply with its consultation plan, which would have required it to contact residents in the immediate vicinity of the base station.

The investigation also found Telstra had contravened the rules by not sending a letter containing the information to all interested and affected parties, and not acknowledging a written complaint within ten business days of its receipt.

For its part, Telstra has already taken steps to avoid similar problems in the future, including reviewing its contractor complaints handling procedures and implementing regular training.

“Consulting with local communities on new mobile towers is an important step in expanding our coverage and we didn’t get that right this time. We’ve looked at where we fell short of what’s expected and we’ll make sure we get it right next time,” a Telstra spokesperson told Telecom Times.

According to the ACMA, the rules in the code are aimed at ensuring telecommunications infrastructure providers give local councils and local communities a chance to have their say before deploying mobile network infrastructure.

“There is public concern about the rollout of mobile infrastructure, including small cell base stations, in residential areas,’ ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said. “Telcos must keep affected communities in the loop and consider their feedback when establishing or upgrading mobile phone base stations.”

According to the ACMA, this is the second such action taken by the regulator in the past six months as part of its efforts to ensure mobile carriers comply with the country’s base station deployment rules.

ACCC fixes software glitch behind early TPG-VHA merger rejection announcement

Australia’s competition watchdog has patched its website content management system (CMS) and apologised, after publishing its decision on TPG’s proposed merger with Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) before it was meant to be made public.

In a somewhat unprecedented move, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a statement on 16 May explaining how it accidentally published its rejection of the proposed TPG-VHA Australia merger a day before it was expected to reveal its decision.

“We apologise unreservedly for this unfortunate and serious incident,” ACCC chief operating officer Rayne de Gruchy said.

“We have thoroughly reviewed all of the processes and information technology systems that led to this error, and we want to assure our stakeholders this incident will not be repeated,” she said.

The publication of the decision to reject the merger sent the share price of both TPG and VHA’s 50 percent stakeholder Hutchison Telecommunications tumbling.

The ACCC said it had conducted a full investigation into the incident and claims that a fault in its website CMS, which has now been rectified thanks to a software patch, was to blame.

According to the regulator, when the information relating to the merger was being put into the back end of the mergers register, a third-party user was trying to access the existing webpage at the same moment as it was being updated.

“Instead of the new information being treated as draft content requiring internal approval, the flaw meant the content was live for eight minutes,” the ACCC said in its statement.

The information went live just before 3PM, giving the ACCC the opportunity to quickly issue a statement confirming the merger decision to both the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) before the end of the trading day.

The ACCC’s rejection of the merger, which could effectively put an end to TPG’s ongoing efforts to become a major player in the country’s mobile telco market, saw VHA and TPG move to launch legal action against the regulator over the decision.

VHA CEO Iñaki Berroeta said on 9 May that the company remains firmly committed to the merger.

“VHA respects the ACCC process, but we believe the merger with TPG will bring very real benefits to consumers.  We have therefore decided that VHA should, together with TPG, pursue approval of the merger through the Federal Court,” said Berroeta.

The merger agreement between VHA and TPG has been extended to 31 August 2020 to allow the legal proceedings to run their course before the proposed deal lapses.