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Spectrum Re-farming Could Advance 4G Roll Out

David Gilbert


aircom international

With the rollout of a 4G network in the UK still a number of years away, the focus now is on the distribution of the allocated spectrum which the government is due to auction off early next year.

The auction of the 3G spectrum garnered £22.5 billion for the Treasury in 2000 but it is expected that the 4G auction won’t come near that figure, despite it being the biggest ever seen in the UK - comparable to three quarters of the current mobile spectrum.

As well as the delay in the auction taking place, networks face a number of other issues which need to be resolved before they can roll out the service to consumers. The main problem for networks is of course cost, and new research has found that re-farming current 2G and 3G spectrum could lead to a huge saving.

4g specturm re-farming

Aircom International has carried out research into the issue and has found that re-farming could lead to huge savings for operators, which could then be passed on to consumers.

After calculating prices paid for new LTE spectrum in North America and Europe, Aircom International believes that existing 2G and 3G spectrum (5MHz) could be re-allocated to LTE deployment for less than 0.5 per cent of the cost of buying new spectrum at auction.

Speaking to TrustedReviews, Fabricio Martinez, Services Director at Aircom International, said that other countries such as Spain are going down this route but plans so far in the UK are in the very early stages with a number of operators speaking to Ofcom about the possibility. He believes this process would expedite the 4G deployment/

Aircom International has calculated that there is sufficient re-farmed spectrum available to sustain quality LTE service delivery for a period of up to three years. It says that as well as re-farming the current spectrum, operators would still need to purchase some of the 4G spectrum when it goes up for auction next year.

4g specturm re-farming

When we asked Martinez whether the re-farming process would affect current 2G and 3G users, Martinez said that in order to minimise the disruption, the re-farming process would need to be planned meticulously.

“Effective spectrum re-farming techniques remove existing spectrum allocated to 2G and 3G service delivery,” he said. “Operators must plan spectrum re-farming very carefully to ensure minimal service degradation. Careful planning will enable operators to build additional capacity in a more measured way, ensuring spectrum efficiency is maximised for new and existing services.”

Speaking about the benefits of an LTE network in the UK, Martinez said that the main benefit would not be speed but a reduction in the latency on the network by up to 50 per cent.

Martinez said that he felt a 4G LTE network would not be operating in the UK until 2013 at the earliest and with the delay in the auction until next year is probably an optimistic estimate at this stage.

Source: Aircom International


September 23, 2011, 9:09 pm

"When we asked Martinez whether the re-farming process would affect current 2G and 3G users, Martinez said that in order to minimise the disruption, the re-farming process would need to be planned meticulously."

In the U.K. this translates into "It will take twice as long, cost twice as much, cause disruption and wont work!"

Or am I being negative?

Martin Daler

September 24, 2011, 1:44 pm

If the industry paid £22.5 billion for 3G, that would go a long way to explaining the exhorbitant prices for mobile data. Let's hope they don't get similarly strong armed over 4G.

If the industry wants to "re-farm" their existing spectrum, presumably they will encourage the adoption of phones capable of operating on both the current 3G technology and the "re-farmed" 4G, to facilitate a one-to-one balance between the uptake of 4G with a commensurate tail-off in 3G demand.

But my guess is that instead of that they won't be able to see any further than the prospect to up-sell their customers to a shiny new 4G phone mid-contract, and so balls-up the whole delicate balancing act that re-farming requires.

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