In his wireless blog, Alastair Brydon advocates widespread 4G coverage, as regulators define LTE licence conditions and network operators begin LTE roll-out.
It’s nice to see some European regulators trying to ensure that one of the biggest mistakes of 3G licensing – inadequate minimum coverage requirements – is not repeated with 4G LTE. With 3G, regulators were more concerned about price competition than the plight of many people in rural areas, who have no mobile broadband services (or even fixed broadband services) whatsoever. LTE now brings hope for the forgotten millions – well at least in Germany and France.
In many countries, including the UK, 3G coverage significantly lags behind 2G. Many rural areas remain underserved with 3G, as well as fixed broadband services. Operators remain far too dependent upon their 2G networks, which are spectrally inefficient. I believe that a key principle of next generation networks is that they should provide an improvement on previous technology in all important aspects, including data speed, quality of service, latency and coverage. Only then can less efficient previous generation networks be phased out to free up valuable spectrum.
In Germany, the telecom regulator has imposed interesting requirements on mobile network operators. As part of the licence conditions for 800MHz spectrum, mobile network operators are required to commence LTE roll-out in rural areas that are currently not provided with adequate fixed or mobile broadband services, before moving on to more populated areas. Hence, LTE is seen as an important delivery mechanism for bringing high-speed broadband services to underserved rural areas. The following priority areas have been identified:
- priority 1 areas, with less than 5,000 inhabitants
- priority 2 areas, with more than 5,000 inhabitants but less than 20,000 inhabitants
- priority 3 areas, with more than 20,000 inhabitants but less than 50,000 inhabitants
- priority 4 areas, with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
Each of the priority areas is subject to a minimum 90% coverage requirement. So, mobile network operators can only move on to providing LTE coverage in priority 2 areas once 90% of priority 1 areas have adequate coverage. Operators must meet the minimum coverage requirement in all priority areas by the 1st January 2016.
To encourage the creation of viable business models for the deployment of LTE in rural areas, the German regulator is supportive of co-operative agreements and of leasing frequencies between mobile operators, provided that these adhere to competition law.
In France, the head of the telecoms regulator ARCEP is widely reported to have said in late 2010 that overall coverage for LTE must be at least equal to that of the two earlier networks (GSM and UMTS). In March 2011, it was reported by Euro TMT that the French cabinet has approved a plan produced by ARCEP to impose a 99.6% population coverage requirement for 800MHz licences, although we are still awaiting the formal publication of the final details.
LTE potentially offers significant benefits to end users, regulators and mobile network operators. These include much higher spectral efficiency than W-CDMA and GSM, and peak rates that substantially exceed ADSL2+ fixed broadband services and, indeed, exceed some FTTC superfast broadband services. I congratulate the efforts of regulators that are trying to ensure that, with LTE and 4G networks, we do not see the ponderous deployments that we’ve seen with 3G.