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Radiocommunications Framework in New Zealand

The following sections give an overview of framework within which radio spectrum management takes place.

Characteristics of the radio spectrum

A combination of factors, including the nature of radio frequencies themselves, equipment manufacture and potential for interference, determine the economic value of the spectrum.

The radio spectrum is, generally speaking, heterogeneous, however some frequencies are more suited to certain uses than others. In practice, such factors as spectrum planning and co-ordination requirements and the availability of suitable transmitters or receivers greatly limit the practical uses for particular spectrum. In addition, because of the potential for interference between transmissions, each frequency or frequency band is able to sustain only a limited number of services, at any location and using any available technology.

To avoid or minimise interference to an acceptable level, transmitters must be separated by distance, frequency, or time, or a combination of these factors. In effect, transmitters must be given exclusive use of the spectrum in terms of these factors if the spectrum is to be exploited efficiently. In general, the higher the frequency, the less distance a signal is able to travel and the greater the negative impact of obstacles on the signal. As a result, higher frequencies are better used for transmitters and receivers which are in fixed locations and in direct line of sight. In addition, the higher the frequency the larger the bandwidth generally required.

The ability to use electromagnetic energy for communications purposes is effectively limited by the current state of technology. Technically, available frequencies today range from about 9 kHz to 300 GHz. The upper limit of 300 GHz may be able to be raised over time with technical progress.


Economic benefits

As demand for mobile telecommunications and wireless services increases, access to the radio spectrum is becoming increasingly essential. To ensure radio spectrum can be used without one use affecting, or having the potential to affect, another, it is necessary for its use to be regulated. The potential for interference, however, makes regulation necessary in order to ensure the radio spectrum can be used in a way that maximises value to society as a whole.

Regulation of the spectrum is through the Radiocommunications Act 1989. The prime objective of the Act, and of spectrum management generally, is to maximise the value of spectrum to New Zealand society. In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to:

  • Ensure that spectrum is allocated to the uses that New Zealand society values the most;
  • Provide sufficient exclusivity of use to enhance the value of particular parts of the spectrum;
  • Provide for security of tenure to encourage spectrum-related investment;
  • Provide a reliable means to resolve interference problems that minimises transaction costs, both within and outside New Zealand's legal jurisdiction; and
  • Ensure that the concentration of control of the spectrum does not unnecessarily inhibit competition.


Role of Radio Spectrum Management (RSM)

MBIE through RSM has a number of roles relating to the operation of the Act. RSM:

  • Administers radio licences under Part XIII of the Act - the majority of the spectrum continues to be managed in this way;
  • Advises the Government on what spectrum should be subject to the management rights regime and, where relevant, the means by which it should be allocated to private interests;
  • Allocates spectrum on the basis decided by the Government;
  • Acts as a manager in respect of some spectrum registered under the Act;
  • Represents New Zealand's spectrum interests in meetings of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international bodies; and,
  • In some cases, acts informally as a facilitator and/or mediator in disputes between private right holders over interference matters.


International obligations

Consistent with our international treaty obligations, RSM is responsible for the operational forecasting, planning and adoption of New Zealand band and channel plans relating to radio technologies and may be required to determine, in a timely manner, the most applicable technology or use of a band for New Zealand and/or methods to transition to such technology or use.


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Last updated 8 December 2014