The 1.8-GHz spectrum continues to establish itself as the most attractive one for LTE, as carriers' attention shifts from their initial obsession with the sub-1GHz “beach front” to a band which balances coverage and capacity, and promises near-global roaming potential in future. It is becoming the dominant band for first-wave rollouts in Asia-Pacific, either alone or combined with other spectrum, and its importance will grow further as carriers start to implement carrier aggregation.
The GSMA predicts that 1.8-GHz will be the dominant LTE band because it is available and relatively harmonized around the world (except in North America), and in many regions, it supports GSM services and can be gradually refarmed for 4G. In the UK, for instance, this allowed the largest cellco, EE, to steal a march on its rivals by deploying in 2G spectrum while the others had to wait for auctions of new licences.
The focus on 1.8-GHz was highlighted again this month in the Taiwanese LTE auction, in which bidding for five 1.8-GHz units has been far more intense than for the four 700-MHz and three 900-MHz blocks. The total bidding price for the higher frequency assets was twice that for 700-MHz as last Monday, at NT$52.405 billion ($1.78 billion) versus NT$22.38 billion, even though 700-MHz is also considered one of the premier LTE bands. This is because it supports broad coverage at cost effective capex with its propagation characteristics, and there is the prospect of harmonized implementation throughout most of Asia-Pacific and Latin America, and possibly also EMEA.
The seven participants in the Taiwan process, which began on September 3, are the 3G incumbents Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, Far EasTone and Asia Pacific Telecom, plus Hon Hai affiliate Ambit Microsystems, and two new telecom companies set up by Taiwanese conglomerates Ting Hsin International Group and Shinkong Group. The last of these has already been eliminated from the bidding however.
Two Asian countries which have been behind the curve in 3G, and so have high growth potential for mobile broadband over LTE, are Thailand and Indonesia. Both are freeing up more 1.8GHz spectrum to address the situation.
There are hopes that the first commercial LTE could appear in Indonesia by year end. Leading cellco Telkomsel says it will deploy up to 400 base stations to run trials in two cities, Medan and Manado, while Indosat is modernizing thousands of its existing base stations to support 4G in its 20MHz of 1.8-GHz and 10-MHz of 2.1-GHz spectrum. Third player XL will also launch its first LTE services in refarmed 1.8-GHz after acquiring another operator, Axis, giving it total holdings in this band of 22.5MHz. The government has favored roll-outs in 1.8GHz with bandwidth of 5MHz to 10MHz because of readily available handsets and roaming potential. However, it still needs to permit refarming officially, a move that is expected in November.