Australian telco Optus first to roll out 900MHz 5G

In an Australian first, Optus has switched on its 900MHz low-band spectrum, extending the telco’s 5G footprint by 20%.

At the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) low band spectrum auction held in December 2021, Optus acquired 2 x 25MHz of 900MHz spectrum licences that are valid for 20 years, starting from July 2024.

It acquired 12 lots of the spectrum for a cool AU$1,475,958,000 while Telstra won four lots for AU$615,660,000.

While Optus’s licence runs from July 2024, it has gained early access to a “substantial portion” of the spectrum, which is why it can activate it immediately.

What is 5G? Read our brief explainer.

What is the 900MHz spectrum?

The 900MHz spectrum is categorised as “low band” and has a wider range compared to higher frequency bands.

It should also benefit Australians in urban areas, as it provides better in-building coverage.

The additional 900MHz spectrum allows Optus to potentially deliver on 5G’s business applications. Think future IoT applications built upon ultra-reliable-low-latency-connections (URLLC).

It will also complement other mid-band and high-band spectrums to deliver superfast speeds to more Australians.

What does this mean?

To quote ACMA chair Crena Chapman at the time of the auction: “The successful allocation of 850/900MHz band spectrum is another important step forward for Australia’s transition to 5G, and the deployment of new technologies.”

The 900MHz spectrum carries mobile signals much further than higher frequency bands, so each base station can provide coverage to a broader area and more customers, making the spectrum especially important for regional areas.

This spectrum will also enable flexible and dynamic separation of services and enhance traffic steering to maximise quality of experience on a single device, compared to a static slicing where different applications need to be on separate devices.

At the moment, Optus has activated close to 1,000 sites with the 900MHz spectrum, with additional sites progressively rolling out across the country. At present, the 5G low-band coverage is only available on select devices and subscription plans, with more devices set to be activated this year.

5G not only allows for quicker download speeds for activities, it also promises significant business benefits. Economic modelling by PwC shows that competitive national deployment of 5G could boost the national economy, with cumulative benefits over the decade of $130 billion – equal to 1.2% of GDP – and the creation of 205,000 net new jobs.

How does this benefit Australians?

Optus hopes to improve connectivity for those Australians living, working and visiting areas outside of major population centres.

“It means we can now start providing coverage into regional and remote areas in a much better way,” said Optus VP of networks Lambo Kanagaratnam in a video.

The same economic modelling by PwC shows that the benefits of 5G deployment in regional Australia over the decade would be $38 billion – equal to 1.4% of GDP – with 45,000 net new jobs created.

Zara Powell
Zara Powell

Zara is a reporter for Based in Sydney, she covers breaking Australian tech news and provides insight into other developments in the Asia-Pacific region.