ACMA aims to raise more than A$850 million from sale of leftover digital dividend.

Australia’s telco watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), has invited bidders to its upcoming 700-MHz auction, which it expects to begin on 4 April.

Going under the hammer are 2×15 MHz of spectrum that remained unsold following the 2013 digital dividend auction. It is comprised of two lots: one lot of 2×10 MHz in the 738 MHz-748 MHz range paired with 793 MHz-893 MHz, and one lot of 2×5 MHz in the 733 MHz-738 MHz range paired with 788 MHz-793 MHz.

According to the auction guide published by the ACMA on Monday, licences will be valid from 1 April 2018 and expire on 31 December 2029.

Australia’s government has set a reserve price of A$1.25 (€0.87) per MHz per head of population, which works out at approximately A$867 million (€796 million) based on 2013 census data.

"This spectrum band – made available after Australia switched from analogue to digital TV – is highly-valued for mobile broadband, in particular 4G services," said acting ACMA chairman Richard Bean, in a statement. "We expect that the spectrum will be used to provide high-speed mobile voice and data coverage to regional and metropolitan Australia."

As previously disclosed, the ACMA has been directed by the government to restrict the amount of 700-MHz spectrum that any single operator can own to 2×20 MHz, making incumbent Telstra, which picked up 2×20 MHz at the 2013 auction, ineligible this time round.

Rival Optus holds 2×10 MHz of 700-MHz spectrum, so it will be able to bid for at least one lot of frequencies in this latest auction, while Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) did not take part in the 2013 auction at all. A year ahead of the auction, then-CEO Bill Morrow indicated that Vodafone wanted to reuse its 1800-MHz spectrum for 4G instead.

With bandwidth demand steadily rising, and with Telstra not in the running, Vodafone Australia – now led by Iñaki Berroeta – might look again at taking part.

However, it could face stiff competition from TPG, which has been ramping up its mobile business since winning a chunk of 1800-MHz spectrum at an auction held last year.

Interested parties have until 13 February to apply to take part, and the auction is expected to begin on 4 April. If any spectrum is left unsold this time, a subsequent allocation process – open to all-comers regardless of their existing frequency allocation – will take place.