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Carrier community pushing to adopt Asia Pac 700MHz plan

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The propagation characteristics of 700MHz are ideal for rural coverage as well as indoor urban penetration

Australian carrier Telstra and trade bodies the GSMA and GSA on Monday launched a major promotion of the APT700 spectrum band for LTE networks.

The Asia Pacific implementation of the ‘digital dividend’ frequency reclaimed from the move to digital TV has already been identified for use in markets covering more than two billion people and the industry bodies are pushing for global adoption in order to facilitate LTE roaming.

The propagation characteristics of 700MHz are ideal for rural coverage as well as indoor urban penetration, making the business case for broadscale deployment of LTE service coverage more attractive, the group suggested. But to date the main obstacle has been persuading regulators and operators around the world to agree on common and interoperable frequency allocations—not only to facilitate roaming but to drive economies of scale and the creation of a global ecosystem.

Telecoms.com published a feature in June that looked at inconsistencies between the USA’s 700MHz plan, the Asia Pacific programme and that being considered for EMEA. The US plan is already widely adopted on the North American continent but is unfortunately incompatible with the rest of the world’s proposals. So the telecoms industry now is focused on pushing a version of the APT700 plan that is at least compatible with the rest of the world.

Although Telstra is spearheading this approach, global (except the US) harmonisation is still complicated. In fact, since April, the GSMA has been lobbying for Europe, the Middle East and Africa to adopt an alternative to 2x30MHz band plan for the 700MHz band, consisting of 703–733MHz (uplink) paired with 758–788MHz (downlink). This band plan is based on the reuse of the lower duplexer of the APT700 band plan (2x30MHz from the APT 2x45MHz) and is intended to promote greater interoperability.

The proposal paves the way for what the GSMA calls “a virtually global band with the APT band plan,” which “will offer the greatest benefit for consumers and mobile operators.” In its proposal, the GSMA recommends that the regulatory and technical conditions for the 700MHz band in EMEA be harmonised with the Asia Pacific band plan, “maximising economies of scale in device manufacturing and enabling interoperability and roaming.”

This final point is the key. In the US, smaller regional players have found themselves squeezed out of the market by frequency allocations that are incompatible with the larger carriers. As a result, device manufacturing becomes disproportionately expensive. This is something the industry bodies are keen to avoid in EMEA, with an APT700-compatible plan, networks and device manufacturers able to support one band for a wide range of markets, driving economies of scale and the creation of a global ecosystem.

“The GSMA has lobbied at national, regional and global levels for a number of years for alignment in Digital Dividend spectrum band allocations, on the basis of the economic benefits of 4G networks to a country and the greater economy of scale that an aligned band plan can offer to the industry as a whole,” said Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA. “The characteristics of APT700 band enable individual operators to achieve high geographic and population coverage levels at much lower cost, whilst a global band strategy based on APT700 will also catalyse international roaming business, enabling customers to cross international boundaries and still receive 4G service.”

A GSMA report “Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2013″ argued that the release of the Digital Dividend band in Asia Pacific by 2020 could potentially result in an increase of $ 1tn in additional GDP; an additional tax revenue growth of $ 215bn; the creation of 1.4 million new businesses; and the creation of 2.7 million new jobs. With Latin America also set to adopt the same band plan as Asia Pacific and the GSMA encouraging Africa to increase adoption of the 700MHz band, the APT band plan could be the biggest harmonised ecosystem the world has known, the organisation said.

That said, the spectrum allocation proposed by GSMA does differ to what has been proposed by those responsible for setting global radio spectrum allocations. A decision at the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2012 (WRC-12) created the possibility to allocate the 694–790MHz frequency band (the European/Region 1 ‘700MHz’ band) after WRC-15 in 2015 for mobile service. Despite the agreement not being set in stone, adoption is going ahead early in Africa where it has proved difficult to free up the 800MHz band that is already widely used for cellular services in Europe.

It remains to be seen whether the WRC and GSMA plans are inter-workable but, on the flip side, as well as less cross-border interference and more options for roaming, the GSMA plan would drive availability of a wider portfolio of devices, driven by a larger, international market, as device manufacturers can mass-produce less-complex devices that function in multiple countries on a single band.

With a lag of 18 months on average for devices following spectrum release, the mobile device ecosystem needs to introduce handsets to cover smart to basic functionality by late 2013 to meet demand as the 700MHz APT networks start to rollout, the GSMA said. Most notable is the lack of devices addressing the lower end price range, where there is a particular need to connect all to broadband. At present, in many rural areas, particularly in emerging markets, only 2G/3G devices, as well as fixed line broadband, are available as 4G/LTE may be perceived as high-end and expensive.

As a result, the GSMA and GSA will also drive a series of forums to increase international recognition of the APT700 band for 4G use, including a session scheduled to take place in February at Mobile World Congress 2014.

Telecoms.com

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