Europe Faces 4G Spectrum Delays

Europe's three biggest countries have missed their targets for licensing valuable spectrum that operators need to deploy the so-called 4G mobile broadband technologies, Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax.

But 2009 could be the year that several European regulators finally start to auction licenses in the 2.6 GHz frequency band -- also known as the "3G expansion band" -- based on the plans that some regulators have revealed to Unstrung.

France, Germany, and the U.K. each planned to allocate licenses in the 2.6 GHz frequency band last year, either by auction or beauty contest, but those timelines have slipped due to legal challenges and problems with moving current users off the spectrum.

The 2.6 GHz band, along with the 790 MHz to 862 MHz band, are the prime spectrum blocks operators are eyeing for 4G network deployments. (See Europe Waits for 4G Spectrum.)

So far, only the Scandinavians are ahead of the game, as is often the case, since Norway and Sweden have already issued 2.6 GHz licenses. With licenses in hand, Telia Company has already made plans to launch LTE in 2010 and selected Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to supply the equipment for networks in Stockholm and Oslo, respectively. (See TeliaSonera: We'll Do 4G in 2010, LTE Base Station Strategies, Craig Goes to Norway, and Swedish 4G.)

But elsewhere, operators are still waiting for new spectrum that can be used for mobile broadband WiMax or LTE networks. Table 1 lists key European countries and their latest spectrum auction schedules.

In Germany, regulator Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) originally planned to auction the 2.6 GHz spectrum in early 2008. Now the regulator isn't even saying when the 2.6 GHz auction will be held, even though a court case win in October appeared to pave the way for the auction.

"There is no date at the moment," a BNetzA spokesman tells Unstrung. "It will be an auction, but we can't say anything more."

In the U.K., regulator Ofcom 's plan to auction the 2.6 GHz spectrum in the summer of 2008 was thwarted by a legal challenge from Telefónica UK Ltd. and T-Mobile (UK) . While that court case still drags on, Ofcom now hopes it can start taking applications by the end of March and hold an auction in early summer this year. (See Brits Kickstart Broadband Spectrum Offer, Ofcom Lawsuit Looms, UK WiMax Faces Spectrum Fight, UK Operators Brace for Spectrum Struggle, Ofcom Denies Spectrum Bundling , and Down on the (Re)Farm.)

"We are still keen for the 2.6 GHz auction to go ahead as soon as possible," says an Ofcom spokeswoman.

Last week, French regulator Arcep announced plans for allocating the last 3G license at 2.1 GHz and revealed that a public consultation on 4G spectrum in the 2.6 GHz and 790 MHz to 862 MHz bands would be launched by the end of February. It's possible that a call for tender (not an auction) for the 4G frequencies could be launched by the end of this year. (See French 4G Spectrum Update, No 3G License for Free, 3G Spectrum, Anyone?, France's 3G Giveaway, and France Frees 3G Spectrum.)

LTE leaders and spectrum laggards
TeliaSonera, with its 2.6 GHz license and plans to launch LTE in 2010, will be among the world's first operators to deploy the new mobile broadband technology.

In the U.S., AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless won licenses last year in the 700 MHz band, and both have said they plan to use the spectrum for LTE. In Japan, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) -– which has been at the forefront of LTE developments –- plays a 4G spectrum waiting game similar to most European operators'. (See '4G' Delays Ahead?, AT&T & Verizon to Use 700 MHz for 4G , AT&T, Verizon Plot Faster Futures, and Nortel Snares LTE Core Deal.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

lrmobile_kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 4:13:40 PM
re: Europe Faces 4G Spectrum Delays The diverse processes of auction of the 4G ( more aptly WiMAX or 3Gpp-LTE) spectrum in different countries with different legal challanges can open a pandora's box if issues such as interoperability and commanality of services across Europe is to be considered.
The 2.6 Ghz spectrum was initially being earmarked only for WiMAX but after the WRC07 where it was adopted as air interface for 3G evolution services, the 3G operators have started laying claim to it.
The success of GSM and later for 3G is owed by a great measure due to the roaming it enabled worldwide ( except USA) with common technology and frequency bands.
We hope that Europe, which has always acted as one block will not act differently in the use of the two bands of 2.6 GHz and 700 MHz in so far as the air interfaces and services are concerned.

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