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EU Approval for 4G Technologies to Use GSM Bands - A Boost to Rural Mobile Broadband

The EC recently approved technical rules on how the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands should be utilised for 4G services, including LTE and WiMAX. National governments have until the end of 2011 to implement the decision into national legislation.

Restrictions were initially imposed by the 1987 GSM Directive which limited these bands for 2G. This was lifted by amendments in 2009 which allowed mobile network operators to refarm existing 2G spectrum for 3G uses. The latest move follows technical agreements to address interference issues in neighbouring bands used for other services.

Other than liberating spectrum, the new rules are geared to extending mobile broadband in rural areas, particularly given the propagation properties of 900MHz spectrum. Given that the EU is aiming to provide universal broadband access across Europe by 2020, providing at least 30Mb/s, liberalising the spectrum for LTE was necessary. 3G networks using 900MHz spectrum are already operating in a number of European markets, while an increasing number of handsets and other devices available are UMTS900-ready.

In the UK, Ofcom allowed these bands to be used for 3G services from the beginning of 2011, partly to encourage the launch of new services and to increase competition but also to help realise the government’s own commitment to provide universal broadband nationally. O2, with more than 22 million mobile subscribers, has already deployed a 3G network in London, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester using refarmed 900MHz spectrum. The ‘3G900’ network is expected to deliver a 50% increase in capacity compared to O2’s existing 3G network.

Everything Everywhere, with nearly 28 million subscribers, recently contracted Huawei to upgrade its 900MHz 2G networks into a single network providing 3G and 4G services. The legacy equipment to be replaced, including 10,000 base stations, was originally supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks, Ericsson and Nortel. Although Everything Everywhere has yet to choose an LTE infrastructure partner, the contract may favour Huawei in 2012 or 2013 when these deals are expected to be struck.

By Henry Lancaster, Senior Analysts at Paul Budde Communication

Henry is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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