Allocation of radio spectrum for the next generation of mobile telecommunications is still on track for early 2020 “if everything goes to plan,” Communications Minister Kris Faafoi says.
Telecommunications providers have been waiting anxiously since Faafoi replaced Clare Curran in the portfolio in September for signs that the 5G spectrum auction and allocation process would not be delayed by the change of ministers.
Spark, in particular, wants to be able to offer 5G services by the end of 2020 to coincide with the next America’s Cup challenge in Auckland.
“It’s a busy time getting things through by the end of the year,” Faafoi told BusinessDesk. “That depends on the Cabinet machine, but our aim is to be able to stick to the timeframe that Clare set out.”
That was to have Cabinet considering concrete proposals before Christmas, although it remained to be seen whether there would be public announcements before the new year, he said.
“There’s some issues to get through to get it to that stage, but that’s the aim,” he said.
Such issues include “not insignificant” iwi expectations established during the process for allocation of 4G spectrum for development opportunities.
“This is a different technology, so what options do we have?” said Faafoi. “Our timeframe at this stage hopes to be able to get allocation early 2020. That’s if everything goes to plan.”
5G technology is considered necessary for the wide take-up of automated services – such as transport – and increasing use of smart technologies that can monitor and self-manage everything from industrial services to farm machinery and home energy usage.
Faafoi said that, at this stage, he had received no formal advice from the electronic intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, about whether or not to allow Chinese-owned telco equipment provider Huawei to provide 5G technology.
Both Spark and 2Degrees use Huawei equipment extensively in their 4G networks but may face pressure not to do so again in the 5G roll-out, owing to the growing geo-political schism between China and the United States and the greater potential for inserting spying equipment into 5G technology versus 4G.
The 2013 Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act requires providers work with the GCSB when developing new networks
With bans on the use of Huawei equipment in Australia, the US and UK, New Zealand is under pressure to ensure it does not become a weak link in the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ global electronic spying network run by the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Asked to comment, Faafoi said: “This is not directed at Huawei. It’s a general comment, but I don’t think it’s a different approach in that the TICSA legislation sets up a framework and all the telcos have to operate under it in terms of any issues around security and work with the GCSB to make sure they’re happy with the design, build and operation of their networks.”
“So, whoever is building part of that infrastructure will have to go through that framework.”
The GCSB is known to have constantly lobbied the previous government not to use Huawei equipment. It is expected to have maintained the same stance under the Labour-led administration, which has been delineating a less pro-China foreign policy stance than the previous National-led government.
Telco providers are understood to be keen to keep Chinese suppliers in the bidding mix to provide greater competitive tension against US and European suppliers.