Dianne Northfield/Tolaga Research
At the end of June 2012, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs Communications awarded rights to the use of 700-MHz spectrum to NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and e-Mobile.
While Softbank is absent from the list, the operator was to sole recipient of spectrum in the 900-MHz ‘Platinum Band’ in February 2012. At 700-MHz, a total of 2 x 30 MHz is allocated in 2 x 10 MHz blocks to DoCoMo, KDDI and e-Mobile.
However, according to announcements from the operators they will not commercialize LTE services using 700-MHz spectrum until 2015 when operators anticipate widespread migration of 3G subscribers to 4G.
DoCoMo launched its LTE service in 2010 initially based on refarming part of its 2.1-GHz spectrum. In its year end March 2012 reporting, the operator confirmed plans to use licensed spectrum in both the 800-MHz and 1.5 GHz bands to support its Xi LTE service. Always aggressive in its LTE targets, DoCoMo now claims 3 million 4G subscribers, up from 2.225 million in March 2012 and 1.14 million reported customers in December 2011.
This dramatic short-term increase in subscribers is in part a result of the launch of Xi-enabled Smartphones in November 2011. DoCoMo has set a target of 10 million LTE subscribers by March 2013, and 30 million 4G subscribers by March 2016. The operator is aiming for LTE network population coverage of 70% by March 2013 and 98% in March 2014. At the end of March 2012, DoCoMo reported an LTE base station count of 7,000.
eMobile launched its LTE service on March 15, 2012 using spectrum in the 1.7-GHz band. It is important to note the overlap of Japan’s 1700-MHz band (1750-1785/1845-1880) with the more traditional 1800-MHz GSM band (1710-1785/1805-1880) At launch the network had 40% population coverage and by the end of March 2012 the operator reported an LTE subscriber base of 218,000.
eMobile is targeting 50% 4G population coverage by June 2012, increasing to 70% in March 2013. With only 30-MHz of spectrum exclusively within the 1.7 GHz band, eMobile’s spectrum holdings are dwarfed in comparison to its competitors which all hold well over 100-MHz of spectrum across multiple bands, Securing 700-MHz spectrum was therefore of critical importance to eMobile. The operator will use the lower band spectrum to expand its LTE coverage.