Access to 5G networks and the right kind of radiofrequency spectrum is an important part of being able to use, test and trial technologies that use 5G.

When you are planning a project, the way you will access a 5G network needs to be considered early. This includes thinking about whether you will use an existing commercial 5G network, or create a private 5G network for the project.

If you want to use your own 5G network, it is important to think about the kind of spectrum the project needs, and the different options available for getting access to that spectrum.

Using a commercial 5G network

All three major mobile network operators in Australia have started to roll out their 5G networks. Depending on the needs of your project, you may be able to partner with one of the mobile network operators to access an existing commercial 5G network.

Using a private 5G network

Private 5G networks might be a good option if your project is in an area where there is no commercial 5G coverage, or for projects that need customised networks—for instance, to provide high levels of reliability for mission-critical functions.

However, you will need access to spectrum to deploy a private 5G network. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) manages access to spectrum and regulates its use in Australia.

Spectrum for these smaller-scale applications can be accessed through the apparatus and class licensing arrangements, which are explained further in the next section. You can also find out more at ACMA's radiocommunications licences page.

For some radiocommunications licencing questions, you can also ask an ‘accredited person’, who is qualified in radiocommunications, for help. The list of accredited persons can be found on ACMA’s Find an accredited person page. You can also contact ACMA for more information.

Ways to access spectrum

Types of radiocommunications licences

There are three main categories of radiocommunication licensing.  Each of these licence categories may have sub-types for specific uses.

  • Spectrum licences allow the licence holder to use a range of radiocommunications devices in a specific geographic area and frequency band. Mobile network operators use this licence type for their commercial networks.
  • Apparatus licences typically permit use of a specific device/transmitter in a nominated location. Area-wide apparatus licences are a sub-type of apparatus licences that allow the use of a range of devices and technologies over a defined area. This licence type is explained further below.
    • ACMA has also defined a sub category of apparatus licence referred to as Scientific licences which are designed for research, teaching, demonstration or trial purposes.
  • Class licences let users operate common radio equipment on shared frequencies. Class licences have limitations for innovative applications as they restrict the precise device, frequency, and application of devices.

Partnership with an existing spectrum holder

You may be able to access to spectrum through an existing spectrum holder’s licence, subject to:

  • the agreement of the licence holder (the licence holder may set terms including costs to access the licence)
  • compliance with the conditions of the original licence, and
  • compliance with any other conditions set by the ACMA.

Area-wide licence allocations

Area-wide apparatus licences (AWLs) are a special type of apparatus licence that let you operate a variety of fixed and mobile services, uses, applications and technologies within a specific area and frequency band. This is different from other kinds of apparatus licence types, which are only for a particular kind of device or service.

The AWL is designed to assist potential new entrants and smaller players in the market to access spectrum, by making it more likely that they can acquire spectrum and to support innovative use cases in the 26 and 28 GHz millimetre wave bands.

ACMA will allocate area-wide apparatus licences in spectrum bands that are suitable for 5G (the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands) in mid-2021. More information about AWLs in these bands is available on the ACMA’s Area-wide apparatus licencing page.

Accessing spectrum in other frequency bands

Some 5G applications (especially those using millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum) may require support from other frequencies, including mid (1 – 6 GHz) or low band spectrum (sub 1 GHz). Spectrum in these frequencies is already heavily subscribed.

Possible spectrum options for 5G in low and mid bands are detailed in the ACMA information paper Spectrum options optimised for local area wireless broadband services and may also be accessible in partnership with owners of spectrum licences in various bands.

If you need spectrum in these bands you can contact ACMA at info@acma.gov.au to identify available options.

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