Japan to issue four LTE licenses in mid-2009

17 Mar 2009

Japanese operators, the world's first into 3G, look set to be early 4G entrants as well.
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) is preparing to issue five new licenses - four for 1.5-GHz and 1.7-GHz LTE and another for TDD in the 2-GHz range.

The ministry is conducting a public consultation and it expects to allocate LTE spectrum in the summer to the four incumbent 3G operators - NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, SoftBank and eMobile.
NTT DoCoMo is likely to be the first to offer services - by the end of next year, it has said. The number two carrier, KDDI, which initially planned to migrate from cdmaEV-DO, is now planning an LTE overlay and will operate the networks in parallel. It has contracted Hitachi and Nortel to build the new network.

In contrast to the hectic 3G battles, the MIC has ensured a smooth transition to 4G by increasing the number of licenses to four, which coincides nicely with the number of operators that have expressed interest. The provisions will allow for competitive bidding if new players emerge at the last minute.

So far no one has shown any interest in the fifth license, which is made available to operators using one of seven different TDD technologies - mobile Wimax, IEEE802.20 625k-MC, next-generation PHS, UMB-TDD, LTE-TDD, TD-CDMA and TD-SCDMA.

No company turned up to the MIC hearing last year to make a presentation on this spectrum and it is not clear today whether any operator will bid.

That may be because of the encouragement given to MVNOs. As well as building out to 50% of the market within five years, all networks must provide open access to MVNOs, the MIC has ruled.

The MIC listed 33 MVNOs last September and, while admitting it finds it hard to keep track of them, numbers have not risen greatly since then.

The 4G auction comes as PHS operator Willcom preps its next-gen network and the KDDI-backed UQ Wimax consortium also prepares to launch its high-speed mobile service.

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