Europe Faces 4G Spectrum Delays
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