Telstra ordered to shut down sites blocking Optus rollout, over 5G competition concerns

Telstra 5G

Telstra must stop deliberately tying up spectrum to interfere with preparations for Optus’ nationwide 5G rollout, as part of a court-enforceable undertaking to the ACCC over 5G competition concerns.

In December 2021, Optus was the successful bidder in the ACMA auctions for large sections of 900 MHz spectrum, to become available in July 2024 part of its 5G rollout. The valuable low-band spectrum has the ability to transmit over greater distances than higher frequencies, and is typically used by mobile network operators to provide core network coverage and capacity.

Telstra currently holds a licence for parts of the 900 MHz band, but has made little use of the spectrum since shutting down its 2G network in 2016. 

On 9 December 2021, Telstra became aware that the ACMA would consider early access applications for the 900 MHz band spectrum – allowing Optus to begin conducting 900 MHz 5G trials before July 2024, in preparation for the rollout.

On 31 January 2022, Telstra registered 315 sites in the 900 MHz band, predominantly located in major cities or inner regional areas – despite not having registered a new 900 MHz site since 2016.

Following an intensive investigation over 5G competition concerns, the ACCC was concerned that the “substantial purpose” of Telstra’s move was to hinder preparations for the Optus 5G rollout.

The ACCC has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Telstra to deregister all remaining radiocommunications sites it registered with the ACMA in the 900 MHz spectrum band in January 2022, that would have prevented Optus from early access to the spectrum.

“We were concerned that Telstra’s registration of 315 radiocommunications sites in the 900 MHz spectrum band had the substantial purpose or likely effect of lessening competition by Optus, as Telstra knew of the importance of this spectrum band to Optus’ 5G rollout plan,” ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.

“Telstra’s undertaking will ensure Optus is not hindered from expanding its 5G rollout, giving more Australians access to a choice of 5G services in regional and metropolitan Australia.”

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