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Radio Spectrum

Finding spectrum for mobile broadband
Radio Spectrum

The continuous explosion of mobile data traffic is fuelling demand for more mobile spectrum, the world over. IDATE has just published the 6th edition of its study “Radio Spectrum” which provides its readers with an overview of major trends in radio spectrum management in Europe, the USA and Asia-Pacific, this report reviews the main issues raised in WRC-12, the regulatory environment, spectrum refarming and new bands, and spectrum valuation. It features the spectrum database with details of the regulatory situation and updates on spectrum auctions.

“The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) which is the place for international negotiation of spectrum allocation took place in Geneva in January and February 2012", says Frédéric Pujol, Head of the Mobile & Spectrum practice. He adds: "At WRC-07, the band 790-862 MHz had been allocated to the mobile service in Europe and Africa (ITU Region 1) and was identified for IMT (International Mobile Communications) at worldwide level. The decision of WRC-12 to launch studies for a second Digital Dividend in Region 1 (Europe, Africa) is good news for the mobile broadband sector in Europe. This new frequency band could match with the 700 MHz Digital Dividend identified for the Asia-Pacific region. Harmonisation with other geographical areas would enable significant economies of scale for LTE devices and would facilitate international roaming."

Spectrum trends and critical issues

Regulatory trends
The European Commission together with all Members States will work on the following concrete actions up to 2015: ensuring that at least 1200 MHz spectrum is identified to address the increasing demand for wireless data traffic and that the need for additional harmonised spectrum bands is assessed.

New spectrum sharing schemes should be used in the coming years as they can enhance the overall spectrum efficiency. The FCC and the European Commission are pushing for more spectrum sharing: either through more unlicenced bands or through more sharing of frequency bands between users. Solutions such as Authorised Shared Access (ASA) represent an interesting evolution of the regulatory framework and could accelerate the use of frequency bands with limited harmonisation such as the 2.3 GHz band.

We consider that white space technologies today represent niche markets and that they cannot be used to provide mobile service on a commercial basis in the UHF band. The concept could be extended to other frequency bands where sharing with incumbent users could be easier.

Existing spectrum for mobile broadband
In Western Europe, spectrum allocated to mobile broadband is generally 590 MHz covering multiple harmonised frequency bands: 800 MHz (FDD – 2 x 30 MHz), 900 MHz (FDD - 2x35 MHz), 1800 MHz (FDD - 2x75 MHz), 2100 MHz (FDD - 2x60 MHz), 2100 MHz (TDD - 15+20 MHz), 2600 MHz (FDD - 2x70 MHz), 2600 MHz (TDD - 50 MHz).
In the USA, a total of 413.5 MHz of spectrum is available for mobile use.

Spectrum refarming is accelerating
In order to maximise the use of the scarce resources, more frequency bands are being refarmed in order to be used by the LTE technology and replace 2G or 3G systems. AWS (Advanced Wireless Spectrum – 1.7/2.1 GHz) and 1900 MHz in the USA, 1800 MHz across Europe and Asia-Pacific are being used by LTE. This process will lead to accelerated shut-down of 2G networks, as has been recently seen in South Korea.

Spectrum needs
Regulatory bodies and ministries around the world are looking for freeing spectrum used by public users to provide additional capacity to mobile broadband. The objectives are close to 500 MHz of additional spectrum for mobile broadband in the five coming years. In the USA, the FCC has defined a spectrum deficit of 275 MHz in 2014 based upon its mobile traffic growth estimate.

LTE spectrum fragmentation and the importance of band plans
Spectrum aggregation and Supplemental Downlink (SDL): supplemental downlink uses additional unpaired spectrum to enhance the downlink capability of mobile broadband networks. Mobile operators such as AT&T and Orange are currently investigating SDL as a solution to meet traffic demands.

Digital Dividend
In Japan, the 700 MHz band has been awarded by the Ministry of Communications to KDDI, NTT DOCOMO and eMobile, enabling them to roll out LTE in a sub-1 GHz frequency band.
The Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) has finalised a harmonised band plan for 698-806 MHz for the Region 3 (Asia-Pacific). It is expected to be approved by ITU shortly. As in the APT band plan, 2x45 MHz of spectrum will be available.
The APT band plans include two versions, the first one compatible with Europe and the second one which would allow for worldwide operation.
The allocation of the 800 MHz band is going on in Europe with LTE commercial services expected grow quickly in 2013.

New resources for mobile broadband
New frequency bands are currently being or will be allocated in the years to come to mobile services and IMT technologies. In Europe, the new bands for mobile terrestrial systems, identified during WRC-07, are 450-470 MHz, 790-862 MHz, 2300-2400 MHz and 3400-3600 MHz.
New frequency bands for Mobile Broadband: L-Band, 2.3 GHz, 3.6-3.8 GHz…

  • The L-Band (1452 MHz to 1492 MHz) is widely available today across Europe as well as in other such countries as Canada or Brazil and could provide SDL for inter-band carrier aggregation.

  • 2.3 GHz: this frequency band is used by TDD networks in Asia and could be used as a supplemental downlink resource in Europe

  • 3.4-3.8 GHz: currently used by WiMAX networks which will migrate to TD-LTE.

Spectrum/licences valuation
The latest auctions confirm the trends identified last year with digital dividend spectrum (800 MHz band) sold for EUR 40-80 cents per MHz per pop.
For the 2.6 GHz spectrum, the valuation ranges from EUR 0.2 to 4.6 cents per MHz per pop.

Frédéric PUJOL
Head of Mobile & Spectrum Practice at IDATE

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Frédéric PUJOL
Head of the Mobile Services
P: +33 (0)467 144 450


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