Speech to the RFUANZ annual conference

Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 15:56

Good morning and thank you for the invitation for me to speak to you today.

I want to thank the Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand for organising this event and inviting me to speak again.

Let me first acknowledge your association chairman, Bruce Harding, and all his hard work and enthusiasm in the sector.

Since 1990, the association have been keen advocates and promoters of the rights of those requiring access to radio spectrum, and it’s great to see your organisation is still in good heart after 25 years.

Importance of connectivity

Following last year’s election, I was delighted that the Prime Minister entrusted me with the Communications portfolio again.

I feel there is a lot of unfinished business in what is a critically important portfolio for New Zealand.

Better connectivity is my number one priority during my term. And spectrum plays a key part in that.

There are few countries in the world where connectivity is more important than for New Zealand.

We are a nation of incredibly innovative people located at the last bus stop on the planet who have had to figure out for ourselves, often with limited resources, how to achieve what we needed to do in a way that still made us globally competitive.

To paraphrase Lord Ernst Rutherford, we haven't had the money so we've had to think – and think we have.

For the first time the Digital Economy is allowing our best and brightest to create and run global export businesses from anywhere in New Zealand and from the same starting point as anywhere else in the world. 

Furthermore, it means all of those innovative, creative Kiwis could harness their skills into a world hungry for clever ICT products and services which they are doing with incredible success. 

One of my frustrations is how few New Zealanders know that our third largest export sector is ICT and that in New Zealand that sector is growing much faster than the national average – with demand for staff meaning salaries in ICT are more than twice the average.

In addition to the global opportunities, here at home better connectivity has the potential to completely change how we connect with each other, how we educate our children and how we provide healthcare and other services across the population. 

It has the ability to mean that those of us living in rural communities no longer need to accept a lesser level of opportunities to work, train or get specialist care.

It’s delivering on these opportunities that is at the heart of capitalising on the better connectivity we are providing and that is the vision I'm focused on as the Minister of Communications.

Reviewing the Radiocommunications Act

As most of you will know, the Government is currently reviewing the Radiocommunications Act.

The last comprehensive review of the Act was in the late 1990s.

Since then, technology has changed dramatically – in ways we could never have foreseen – and with it demand for spectrum has amplified.

So while our RSM team has won international awards for its work, it’s now timely to reconsider how the spectrum is managed to ensure the most efficient and effective outcomes for New Zealand.

When the Radiocommunications Act was introduced in 1989, the internet had barely got started.

It was used largely only by the military and academics. Many of the uses of radio spectrum today, such as Wi-Fi and mobile broadband, were unimaginable.

When first built in 1989, the ANZCAN undersea cable ran from Hawaii to Waikato University and provided a humble 9.6 kilobits per second connection.

25 years on, New Zealand now connects to the world through the Southern Cross cable system with a capacity of 2.7 terabits per second and growing.

This is a speed increase of more than 280 million times.

Rapid technology change and increasing globalisation has meant that the landscape the Government faces today in regards to radio spectrum is dramatically different to that of the 1970s.

Technology advances mean that there are now almost limitless uses of radio spectrum.

Smartphones and tablets have revolutionised the way that people access information, network and communicate.

According to recent research, 64 per cent of New Zealanders aged between 15 and 65 now own a smartphone. Levels are predicted to continue to grow strongly to 90 per cent in three years.

As many of you will know, the Government completed the auction of 700 MHz spectrum for fourth generation mobile internet mid-last year. 4G provides users with ten times faster speeds when compared to 3G.

700 MHz spectrum is especially good for rural networks, because its signals travel well over long distances. This means that, when allocating this spectrum, the Government had the opportunity to facilitate greater 4G coverage of regional New Zealand.

To this end, the spectrum sold at the auction is subject to implementation requirements that will ensure that 4G is deployed quickly and widely around the country.

On this note, I am pleased to say that 90 per cent of New Zealanders will have 4G coverage within the next five years.

In addition to the personal benefits that come from owning an internet-savvy mobile device, the use of these devices also brings enormous benefits to our economy.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has estimated that up to $2.4 billion of economic benefits will flow to New Zealand over next 20 years from the use of 700 MHz spectrum for 4G.

And 4G is just the beginning.

A glimpse of the next generation of cell phone network will likely be the fastest cell phone network ever.

Nokia Networks is developing an unthinkably fast 5G cellular technology – 40 times faster than 4G.

The company says the network can deliver peak speeds of 10 Gigabits per second, fast enough to download a full-length HD movie to your phone in a matter of seconds.  Those speeds would also make it possible to stream “8K” video in 3D.  That is an incredibly detailed picture, which is twice as clear as 4K video and 16 times clearer than full HD video. 

So the potential of spectrum remains a phenomenon and a fascinating area to work in.

The land mobile industry

The developments in mobile network technologies pose both threats and opportunities for the land mobile industry.

I understand that there is quite a bit of thought going into the potential for convergence between land mobile and mobile network technologies.

You may be aware that New Zealand’s emergency services are seeing this as one way of providing for their future needs in the context of the Whole of Government Radio Network.

Combining the best features of land mobile and mobile networks would enable emergency services to have extensive coverage for voice services and also receive high capacity data services where available.

No doubt other industries would also benefit from this sort of capability.

I understand that Geoff Peck from Tait Communications will be speaking to you tomorrow on the integration of LTE with land mobile.

Tait Communications are already embracing the integration of LTE with land mobile so the session should provide a good perspective on the different economic choices agencies have to integrate their communications.

Thankfully, technology advances also mean that most wireless technologies are much more efficient in their use of the radio spectrum.

The Government plays a role in encouraging the uptake of more efficient technology. This enables greater use of the radio spectrum for the benefit of New Zealanders.

The switchover from analogue to digital television in 2013 is a great example of this.

The benefits of digital modulation include increased information capacity, compatibility with data services, enhanced security and improved communications quality – all while using a fraction of the spectrum required for equivalent analogue services.

Land mobile technology is another example. Advances in equipment mean that the same services are able to be delivered using a quarter of the spectrum that they used just a few decades ago. Such equipment is now widely commercially available to New Zealand businesses.

The Government has been actively encouraging land mobile users to transition to more efficient equipment. This is really important as it will free-up more of this spectrum and allow for additional uses.

On this note, I am pleased to say that progress amongst land mobile users in transitioning to 12.5 kHz channels is tracking along very well towards the upcoming deadline in November this year. This will help to ease the congestion in the VHF band.

The Radio Spectrum Management teams are working hard to ensure that the transition to 12.5 kHz channels goes smoothly for those holding land mobile licences. 

I am aware that in spite of the transition, there is concern about the current level of congestion in the land mobile bands and interest amongst some in utilising the VHF band lll.

The VHF band lll was made available after New Zealand switched from analogue to digital television.

The Government is keeping a close eye on international developments in this area and will consider all the potential uses before allocating the band.

In terms of land mobile, we will need to assess the level of need for further spectrum.

We plan to review the usage of VHF band III once we can see the outcome of the 12.5 kHz transition. Public consultation will be undertaken as part of this review.

Keeping up with international developments

Increased globalisation has meant that there is greater need to ensure that New Zealand is co-ordinated with the international radio community.

Generally speaking, I think you’ll agree that, as a relatively small nation, we tend to be a “technology taker” as manufacturers overseas are less likely to develop technology catering for our specific needs.

Because of this, it’s important that New Zealand is coordinated with the international radio community, and to that end we work through the International Telecommunications Union (or “ITU") to make sure our uses of particular spectrum line up internationally.

This ensures that New Zealanders have access to global markets for radio equipment; our cell phones continue to work when we travel overseas, and tourists can use their cell phones while in New Zealand.

While New Zealand is small, we still have the opportunity to have an influential presence within the international radio community.

New Zealand hosted an ITU working party meeting earlier this year to discuss future generations of cellular mobile services. 165 delegates attended the meeting from around the world.

The outcomes of this working party meeting will feed into the upcoming World Radio Conference later this year.

New Zealand will be sending officials to that conference, which will cover a number of areas that are relevant to New Zealand’s interests such as finding more spectrum for cellular mobile services, harmonising spectrum use globally for public protection and disaster relief, and global flight tracking.

Increased globalisation also means it is a lot easier today for citizens and businesses to purchase equipment from overseas providers.

This means that preventing non-compliant radio equipment from entering New Zealand via border control is increasingly important and difficult.

To this end, the Radio Spectrum Management teams work closely with Customs.

The Radio Spectrum Management teams also work proactively to prevent equipment that could cause interference from entering New Zealand. The teams actively monitor retailers and wholesalers as well as online retail sites such as Trade Me and Fishpond.

The import of non-compliant dog-tracking collars used by hunters has been a particular issue. The Government prohibited these collars in 2011 because they have the potential to interfere with land mobile services.

Customs has intercepted around 130 shipments of non-compliant dog tracking collars since they were prohibited.

In January, the US company Garmin released a new dog-tracking collar especially for the New Zealand market. This collar is compliant with our allocation of radio frequencies and won’t interfere with land mobile services.

This compliant equipment, along with closer inter-agency cooperation, has meant that only one attempted import of non-compliant collars has been discovered and intercepted since January this year.

Technology improving radio spectrum management

Technology advances continue to assist the work of Government in managing the radio spectrum.

Many of the Government’s functions in respect of radio spectrum have been streamlined over the last decade as the Register of Radio Frequencies has gone on-line and engineering has been outsourced to Approved Radio Engineers and Certifiers.

As a result of this, radio spectrum users around the country are able to do their Government transactions on-line. It also means the Government is able to deliver services to radio spectrum users more efficiently and at a much lower cost.

Technology improvements also mean that most radio equipment is becoming less prone to interference.

In the past, a significant part of interference investigation work done by the Government dealt with AM broadcasting issues. Such investigation work is rare these days. The introduction of FM broadcasting in the early 1980s has provided another means of broadcasting that is much less susceptible to interference.

Likewise, the recent switch to digital terrestrial television has reduced the incidence of interference of television broadcasting.

As a result of radio equipment being less susceptible to interference as well as the increased focus on targeted proactive interference prevention, Radio Spectrum Management’s team of radio inspectors is now a fifth of the size it was in 2002. This has further reduced the cost of the service.

It is because of these decreases in costs that radio licence fees haven’t increased for 7 years, since February 2008.

The Government is in the initial stages of undertaking a review of licence fees, with a view to reducing the level of fees on average. Once a proposal has been developed, we will run a public consultation process – and I hope you will submit and make your views known but it’s looking like being a good news story.

Technology developments

The Government is keeping an eye on technology developments to ensure we are best placed to meet future challenges.

White space devices are very promising from an efficiency perspective. These devices are able to scan frequencies and utilise those that are unused. The efficient use of spectrum is increasingly important as demand for spectrum grows.

However, with the use of white space technologies, there are challenges in regards to balancing the rights of incumbents with ensuring the efficient use of spectrum.

The Government has recently put in place a licensing framework to enable the trial of white space devices in some frequencies.

We hope this will help to further industry’s understanding of white space technology while also allowing the Government to test out the new white space licensing framework.

Equipment which is able to monitor interference remotely is another promising new technology.

Remote monitoring technology could help to ensure that radio transmissions in difficult to reach locations are better protected from interference.

The Radio Spectrum Management teams have recently invested in remote monitoring technology and will be considering further investment if this technology proves to be helpful.

It is because of forward-looking work like this that the Government has been able to be agile in adapting their work to meet the demands of the day.

Of course, the feedback and ideas that stakeholders have fed into the Government’s work have played an important part in this as well.

On that note, I would like to reiterate that the Government values the Radio Frequency Users Association’s continued input into our public consultations and policy development proposals, and I encourage you all to stay involved.


In closing, I want to reiterate my initial point that connectivity is critical to our country’s future.

Along with the Ultra-Fast Broadband and the Rural Broadband projects, radio frequencies and spectrum play a fundamental role in helping Kiwis connect with one another and the world.

This digital infrastructure is helping turn New Zealand's historical tyranny of distance into a world of limitless opportunity for our citizens and businesses.

And we have only just begun to scratch the surface.

My best wishes for the success of your conference and thank you again for the opportunity to speak.