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Hope for Some 4G Harmony

Ray Le Maistre

11:00 AM -- It's just possible that a decision made earlier this week by the Mexican authorities could have a significant impact on the 4G spectrum decisions of other countries in Central and South America and even elsewhere.

The country's regulator, the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel), is to license the 700MHz band for 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) services and is adopting the APT (Asia-Pacific Telecommunity) model for segmentation, judging it to be more efficient than the scheme used in the U.S. in the 700MHz band. According to Cofetel (translated from the original announcement in Spanish): "As the APT 700 plan segments the band in two portions of 45MHz with a 10MHz block between the transmission and reception sub-bands, it provides greater flexibility in spectrum use and caters to the future demands of mobile broadband services. In addition, this model has guard bands to protect adjacent spectrum, both the television in the bottom of the band and the cellular at the top."

Cofetel also believes that, by adopting the APT model, it will gain greater economies of scale for Mexico's operators, as the same spectrum allocation is being adopted widely across the Asia/Pacific region, leading to a broad availability of network and device products. Here's how the Mexican regulator sees the APT model stacking up against the U.S. model:

Table 1: How Cofetel Views the Characteristics of the Two 700MHz Models

US Plan Asia/Pacific Plan
Global economies of scale������ 400 million users������ 4,000 million users����
Standardized amount of spectrum for large scale commercial use� 37% 83%
Amount of spectrum dedicated to public safety�� 16% 0%
Number of networks with 2 � 10MHz possible to accommodate������ 2 4
Number of networks with 2 � 15MHz possible to accommodate������ 0 3
Number of networks with 2 � 20MHz possible to accommodate������ 0 2
Portability from one network to another within the same band��� No Yes
Connectivity model for law enforcement, relief, and intelligence������� Dedicated network, dedicated spectrum, investment by Public �Safety Forces Commercial network, dedicated capacity guaranteed, investment by private operators
Cost to cover the entire population of the Federal District���� US$800 million US$150 million
Minimal time to deploy a network that provides capacity to the entire population of Mexico City 2.5 years 1.5 years
Source: Comisi�n Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel)

The decision has been applauded by the GSM Association (GSMA) , which stated: "The GSMA encourages countries in Latin America to work together to implement a harmonised 700MHz band plan for mobile services. Spectrum harmonisation is essential to generate cost efficiencies in both network technology and devices, allowing deployment to remote areas to ultimately make mobile broadband services more accessible and affordable for all consumers." (See GSMA Applauds Mexico's 700MHz Plan.)

If Latin American markets follow Mexico's lead, where does that leave the U.S.?

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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12/5/2012 | 5:20:40 PM
re: Hope for Some 4G Harmony

Haven't heard anything yet. I'm sure AT&T and Verizon will be happy to sign roaming agreements outside the US they just don't want their customers to be able to roam on each other's 4G networks.

12/5/2012 | 5:20:39 PM
re: Hope for Some 4G Harmony

2013 or 2014 for the roaming portion and for the home portion, not going to happen.

12/5/2012 | 5:20:39 PM
re: Hope for Some 4G Harmony

Yeah, I suspect you're right. They seem to be resistant on the face of it right now though. Any wagers on when we might get to a "home or roam" LTE status in the US?

12/5/2012 | 5:20:39 PM
re: Hope for Some 4G Harmony

I believe that will change.  No carrier in the US has 100% coverage of the US.  You go to these rural areas and you are now roaming.  There are areas that AT&T is running CDMA/1x-RTT and areas where Verizon Wireless is running GSM/W-CDMA.  Eventually they are going to want to reuse that spectrum and that will make 4G roaming a reality.  The caveat is that roaming will be as it is today, in your home network area and you will not roam, you will only roam when you leave the coverage area of your home network.  Right now though, 4G roaming would only be used for data and not voice, so VoLTE might assist in the 4G roaming agreements.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless use the same technologies and yet you didn’t have roaming between then until you left your home coverage area.  The same between AT&T and T-Mobile.  4G will not be any different.

Pretty Pat
Pretty Pat
12/5/2012 | 5:20:34 PM
re: Hope for Some 4G Harmony

Well, lovely boy, I wish you were right, but you aren’t.

According to the way Mexican law works, this seemingly –simple- recommendation, is the strongest possible way to make this decision irreversible. By law, Spectrum Management is the responsibility of Cofetel not SCT, and the Supreme Court of Mexico has historically respected Cofetel’s technical recommendations. Also, the Mexican Telecommunications Law has a clear bias towards efficiency, and the inefficiency of the US 700MHz arrangement is easy to show.

Given that all carriers in Mexico have cheered the decision and congratulated Cofetel, and given the legal framework of Mexico, any action against this decision is prone to fail. I believe we have to start getting used to the idea of Mexico having a better arrangement than ours for 700MHz.

We should look at this positively. This will bring telecom competition to a country that needs it more than any other in the world. We are a generous and intelligent Nation that will not smear its inefficiencies around the world just to make an extra buck! We should show sympathy to our southern neighbors.

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