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5G Roll-Out to Improve Rural Connectivity in New Zealand

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The Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark, recently announced that the government is working with the country’s biggest telecommunications network operators to accelerate the roll-out of 5G services across New Zealand to improve rural connectivity.

Clark said this is a result of a new agreement, which will enable many more New Zealanders to gain access to the speed, capacity, and reliability of 5G services. Generally, 5G spectrum access is sold to telecommunications providers through an auction. However, under the agreement, the government will bypass that process and use a direct allocation method.

Network operators have been launching 5G over the last two years, using the 3.5 GHz spectrum band, which was the first band to be allocated specifically for high-speed 5G services. The government provided short-term early access to this spectrum in 2020, to enable the country’s 5G roll-out to begin. Access to current short-term 3.5 GHz rights expires at the end of October 2022, therefore, long-term rights must be allocated, a statement wrote. As part of this process, these rights will be extended from 1 November 2022 until 30 June 2023, to allow network operators to continue their roll-out of 5G and to provide continuity for regional services. Under the agreement, three major mobile network operators will be required to increase the pace of the 5G roll-out to small towns and hardest-to-reach parts of the country.

The agreement complements other government investments, including NZ$60 million for rural connectivity allocated through Budget 2022, Clark stated. The details of the long-term allocation will continue to be worked through over the coming months as the Crown negotiates final contracts with the parties involved, the statement noted.

Subject to contract negotiations, the direct allocation of spectrum will be provided in exchange for investment from all parties involved and will see the market value of this spectrum be delivered through the faster availability of 5G to small towns, leveraging the existing capability and networks of major mobile network operators and infrastructure providers.

In March, to boost connectivity across the country, the government announced a plan to improve broadband network connectivity in rural areas. NZ$47 million from the Covid Response and Recovery Fund was allocated towards the Rural Capacity Upgrade project, as OpenGov Asia reported. To ensure the work goes through efficiently and effectively, 13 private sector contractors were tapped for the Rural Capacity Upgrade project.

Clark stated that by the end of 2024, 47,000 rural households and businesses should experience faster internet speeds and better reception than they do now. He stressed that the pandemic highlighted the need for reliable connectivity. More often than not, it is the rural areas that suffer the most when it comes to connectivity, he explained. Having been through lockdowns, it is clear some networks had trouble adapting to the extra usage. They lack the capacity needed to ensure connections were stable, which is why the government is prioritising rural connectivity.

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