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New Zealand Radiocommunications History

The following provides a brief summary of the development of radiocommunication regulations in New Zealand. For further information a more detailed overview is available in the Radiocommunications History in New Zealand [2 MB PDF].



Where it all began

  • In 1865, the physicist, Maxwell, demonstrated the theory of electromagnetic energy (an energy soon to be known as radio waves). His theory was confirmed by Henrich Hertz in 1888 when Hertz caused an electric discharge between two metal balls, which he then projected across to a wired loop detection apparatus.
  • In 1895, Marconi realised the communication possibilities of artificially generated radio waves. After being dismissed by the Italian Government, he found a backer for his work in the British Government.
  • In 1899 Marconi sent his first message across the English Channel and by 1901 he spanned the Atlantic. The technology was primitive and the concept of frequency management as a means of enabling simultaneous radiocommunications was still largely unrealised.


Radiocommunication regulation beginnings in New Zealand

  • The first official mention of radiocommunication in New Zealand is a 1902 notification to mariners of a list of stations established by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph company – albeit there were none in the southern hemisphere.
  • In 1903 The New Zealand Government took control of this new technology by way of the New Zealand Wireless Telegraphy Act 1903. It permitted only the Government to use this technology.
  • In 1908 the first wireless message was sent by Sir Joseph Ward
  • In 1909 the Government decided to establish a number of marine radio coast stations. The first began operating in 1911.
  • The frequency of early radio transmitters and receivers was not able to be controlled; therefore only one wireless communication at a time could take place in any given geographical area.
  • In 1912, with the tragic loss of the Titanic, it became evident that the management framework for radio transmission and reception was necessary to ensure the potential of the technology could be realised.
  • Although the upper range of frequencies was unknown, the concept gradually emerged of the radio spectrum as a public and economic resource, and licensing (the generation of radio waves), as a management tool for the prevention of radio interference. Government regulations were initially established to protect Government revenue and to organise and allocate frequencies to prevent interference.


Broadcasting beginnings in New Zealand

  • In 1907 a device was developed which detects and amplifies weak electrical signals. This became known as radio telegraphy, which was initially used by the military in World War One.
  • In 1920, with the Post and Telegraph Amendment Act provision was made to licence receivers independent of transmitters, which set the scene for broadcasting as we know it.
  • The first instance of broadcasting in New Zealand was in 1921, with the unlicensed transmission of gramophone recordings from a room in Wellington. The first licenced broadcast occurred later that year, with the transmission of a number of concerts by a professor from Otago University.
  • The first licenced radio station began broadcasting in 1922, at a wavelength of 275 metres. In 1923 the Government developed regulations which divided the country into regions, specified frequencies and transmitter powers (and banned advertising). 1YA was the first station licenced under the new regulations.
  • Private stations flourished in the 1920s and 30s, until the Broadcasting Act 1936, and the resultant National Broadcasting Service saw the Government purchase all but two private stations by the beginning of World War II.


Telecommunication beginnings in New Zealand

  • The early development of the use of radio grew out of the experimentation of radio amateurs. In 1927 the Government used these learnings, and established a short-wave radio-telegraph link with Apia.
  • In 1930 a public radio-telephone service was opened between Australia and New Zealand, in 1931 this service was linked with the Australia to UK service.
  • World War II saw further developments in technology, and interest in the communication possibilities of VHF intensified.
  • In 1965 the first global telecommunication satellite network, INTELSAT, came into being, and international communication links moved into a new era.


The development of New Zealand’s Spectrum Management framework

  • Until 1987 Spectrum management in New Zealand evolved under a centralised, administrated system which was administrated by the New Zealand Post Office (NZPO)
  • Provided the NZPO monopoly on provision of telecommunication services was not compromised, radio licences were granted, essentially on a ‘first come first served’ basis.
  • This all changed in 1987, when the NZPO was split into three state-owned enterprises and its regulatory functions, including radio spectrum management, were transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry, and administrated under the Telecommunications Act 1987.
  • Late in 1987 a report by the Business Roundtable recommended substantial reform of telecommunications, this lead the Government to remove the statutory prohibition on competition with Telecoms network, and to request a review of policy options to ensure best use of the spectrum.
  • As a result a report was commissioned. The report, prepared by NERA, made 20 specific proposals, the key issues which can be downloaded in our detailed overview ‘Radiocommunications History in New Zealand’.
  • In considering the report Cabinet agreed to adopt in principle a spectrum management regime providing for ‘a mixture of administrated licences and the creation of property rights in the form of both spectrum products and spectrum bands enforceable by statute’. As a result the Radiocommunications Act came into effect in 1989.


Radio auctions

  • During the months preceding the coming into force of the Radiocommunications Act 1989, the Ministry of Commerce had been evaluating public submissions in regard to UHF television, and engineering auction lots accordingly. Three days after the passage of legislation the first call of bids for tender for spectrum licences was made.
  • After a successful first auction, planning was already well advanced for a further two auctions – for the management rights for cellular services and for AM and FM broadcasting licences.
  • The auction for AM and FM radio broadcasting licences was delayed numerous times due to claims before the Waitangi Tribunal. Although the auction did finally proceed, further frequencies were reserved nationwide for promotion of Maori language and culture.
  • A further auction for frequencies in the 2GHz band, was also deferred pending a substantive Waitangi Tribunal hearing. After considering the Tribunal report the Government allowed the auction to proceed, while reserving one block for Maori economic development policies.


Changes to Radiocommunication Regulations

  • In 1994 the Ministry of Commerce released a public discussion paper on the Radio Communications Act and the Government policies relating to its use.
  • In 1996 Cabinet agreed to the Ministry of Commerce proposal for a Radiocommunications Amendment Bill. The Bill was duly drafted and approved for introduction to Cabinet December 1997.
  • The Radiocommunications Amendment Act received Royal Assent in 2000 and new Radiocommunications Regulations, to support the act, were made by Order-In-Council in 2001.


Last updated 27 January 2017