The New Zealand government has signed an agreement with the country’s three major mobile network operators (MNOs) – Spark, 2degrees and One New Zealand – for a direct allocation of C-band mobile spectrum under a new model where the revenue is directly invested into accelerated mobile network upgrades for provincial and rural areas of the country.

The three MNOs will each receive 80MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, which the government considers sufficient for the operation of nationwide 5G networks, with the long-term management rights taking effect from 1 July 2023, when the short-term rights extended in October 2022 come to an end. The Interim Maori Spectrum Commission, meanwhile, will be assigned 100MHz of frequencies which it will manage on behalf of the Maori community. Dense Air New Zealand, a current interim holder of 3.5GHz spectrum rights and which had previously been in negotiations with the government for long-term rights in the band, has since decided to withdraw from the process.

In return for the allocated spectrum, Spark, 2degrees and One New Zealand will each pay the government NZD24 million (USD15.2 million), which will be allocated to the Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) to support the expansion of mobile coverage further into rural New Zealand and address mobile black spots on state highways. This funding is additional to the value of the works required to provide 5G to towns. The agreement builds on other government investment, including the NZD60 million allocated through Budget 2022 for rural connectivity improvements, as well as the NZD47 million of rural capacity upgrades that commenced in February 2022.

Commenting on the agreement, Digital Economy and Communications Minister Ginny Andersen said: ‘As part of this new agreement, our three major mobile network operators must increase the pace of the 5G rollout to small towns across New Zealand and to continue their efforts to further expand mobile wireless coverage in rural areas. This deal is a huge step forward for rural New Zealand when it comes to connectivity. By working together with our telecommunications operators more Kiwis will have access to faster wireless mobile services.’

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