NZ's digital dividend: 112 MHz cleared for 4G use

Mobile services are the winners in the government's planned reallocation of radio spectrum after the switch to digital television transmission -- while proposals to use spare spectrum for rural broadband delivery have missed out, for now at least, due to "lack of enthusiasm".

The date for New Zealand's digital switchover has not yet been set but is anticipated to occur between 2013 to 2015, according to the Ministry of Economic Development (MED).

"Submissions and international trends have confirmed that future mobile use should be between 694 MHz and 806 MHz, and 694 MHz is therefore the most appropriate boundary between the television and non-television uses in the UHF band," MED has determined.

Therefore, 176 MHz in the 502 and 694 MHz frequency range is designated for digital television use after the switchover and 112 MHz, between 694 and 806 MHz, will be designated for new 4G cellular technologies.

"The next phase of planning is to finalise a technical frequency plan suitable for 4G usage, and following that, to determine a process for allocating the spectrum," the ministry says. "The frequency plan needs to take account of what is being planned internationally, as well as the availability of equipment. This is to ensure that cost effective services and handsets will be available for use in New Zealand, and that both New Zealanders and visitors will be able to use international roaming services."

The discussion paper proposed that the remaining spectrum in rural areas could be released for uses such as rural broadband.

"The submissions however showed little obvious enthusiasm for use of this spectrum for that purpose. There is also uncertainty about which technologies (other than digital television) would be economically viable. A decision on the allocation of this spectrum will therefore take place by the end of 2011."

The ministry says once detailed design work and engagement with industry and Māori interests have taken place, there will be further Cabinet decisions required at the end of 2011 to confirm the band plan and the allocation process.