Communications Minister Kris Faafoi says the government aims to auction the first 5G mobile spectrum in early 2020.

In a media statement, Faafoi says the 5G spectrum auctions will start with frequencies in the 3.5 GHz band.

Although the auction will take place early next year, there are still matters to work through. One problem is that the existing rights to the 3.5 GHz spectrum do not expire until November 2022. Faafoi says bidders may get earlier access if they negotiate agreements with the rights holder. 

The government also needs to negotiate Treaty of Waitangi issues with Maori. Faafoi says this process can go on at the same time as other work. However, he says: “Until this work has been completed, we will not be able to provide details of the 3.5 GHz spectrum that will be available for auction”.

A 3.5 GHz spectrum auction won’t be restricted to the cellular companies: Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.

Faafoi says: “Spectrum in this band will also be available to regional wireless broadband service providers. In the future, national spectrum rights will open the door to higher connection speeds and greater network capacity.”

He expects to announce allocation details of regional spectrum rights later this year.

Faafoi says: “The government’s next priority is allocation of other segments of the spectrum for 5G in the millimetre wave bands and details on that will be shared later this year.”

Spark managing director Simon Moutter has previously called on the government to move quickly on 5G spectrum auctions. He plans to have a 5G network in place ready for the 2021 America’s Cup races in Auckland.