In February 2012, Japanese mobile operator Softbank Mobile (Softbank) will launch a TD-LTE network for data offload. This means that Japan will be the first market in Asia to deploy a commercial TD-LTE network. Softbank – Japan’s third largest mobile operator – has been forced to deploy TD-LTE services because its UMTS network is under considerable strain in key areas.
TDD spectrum is now extremely valuable to mobile operators. Chinese vendor Huawei predicts that 70% of TDD networks will be deployed as extension networks by FDD operators. According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, four operators have already launched commercial TD-LTE networks globally: Brazilian operator Sky, Poland’s Aero2, and Saudi Arabian operators Etisalat and STC. The TDD-FDD device ecosystem is quickly maturing, and Huawei is due to deliver FDD-TDD LTE smartphones to Softbank by August 2012.
Softbank has ambitious goals for TD-LTE in Japan. The operator’s Wireless City Planning unit, which already operates a personal handy-phone system (PHS), is aiming to cover 92% of the Japanese population with its Advanced eXtended Global Platform (AXGP), “100% TDD compatible” network by March 2013. Softbank is rolling out Huawei’s single RAN LTE-TDD solution in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and surrounding areas.
The base stations for the network will be co-located with existing PHS sites, which will reduce costs and enable a rapid network deployment. The network, which soft launched in November 2011 in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, is due to go live in February 2012 using a 20MHz channel, and is designed to offload 80% of the UMTS network’s data traffic.
Softbank’s mobile data focus is on smartphones, which is in contrast to rival eMobile’s focus on data cards. Softbank already offers the world’s first TDD-FDD LTE dongle, and TDD-FDD smartphones are due to launch in 3Q12. The Android smartphones from Huawei will support HSPA at 900-MHz and 2100-MHz, Dual-Cell HSPA at 1500-MHz, and GSM/EDGE at 900-MHz, 1800-MHz, and 1900-MHz.
Softbank is keen to shift data traffic from its UMTS network to its TD-LTE network. This is a logical move given that 40MHz of the 700-MHz/900-MHz spectrum for FDD LTE is not due to be allocated by the Japanese government until 1Q12. TD-LTE will help Softbank to manage network congestion, and improve quality of service. However, NTT DoCoMo, which launched its FDD LTE service in December 2010, still holds a network advantage over Softbank and CDMA operator KDDI.