Monday, April 27, 2009

Spectrum auctions - the Finnish start

There's something about the Finns, that means they always have to do things differently from everyone else. Rethink Wireless puts this down to a 'progressive' regulator, but you could also say that they're just a bit contrary. Not only have they been the first to auction off spectrum for LTE, but they've gone ahead and gone for a freequency different from what the rest of Europe looks like standardising on.

In many ways, this shouldn't be a surprise. Afterall, this is the same country that in June 2005 allowed Digita to deploy FLASH-OFDM in 450Mhz spectrum. FLASH-OFDM, remember, was the technology from Flarion* (and subsequently acquired by Qualcomm) that really defined what mobile broadband should look like ... the only downside was, EU regulations meant it couldn't be deployed in the licenced spectrum as that was reserved for WCDMA.

There's an interesting parallel in the recent Finnish decision around LTE spectrum (not least that OFDMA, the technology to emerge out of the ashes of FLASH-OFDM is fighting to be part of of the LTE standard). The driver for both decisions around spectrum was the need to deliver a rural mobile broadband coverage (afterall, when the Finns go to their summer houses by the lakes in the of the country, they still want to be able to watch their SlingBox!).

Of course, the major advantage of 1.8Ghz over 2.6Ghz is the fact that the cell size will be bigger, so it's marginally more suited for rural areas ... though truth be told, still no where near the cell sizes delivered by 450Mhz.

The choice of spectrum, and whether the regulator will define the technology that must be deployed in it, is on of the big debates that will define the industry over the next two years.

What is a 'fair price' for the spectrum? What technology is best? Will the world end up with patchwork quilt of spectrum that means 'global' LTE roaming will be well nigh impossible? And what will all this mean for the services being deployed?

All big questions. This year we'll see not only 2.6Ghz spectrum auctions for LTE, but also the refarming of 900mhz spectrum. With HSPA+, LTE and (still just about) WiMAX all fighting for their market share, there are some political, rather than technology, decisions that need to be made. Oh, and add in the matter of mobile TV and the battle between DVB-H, DMB, IMB and MediaFLO and the regulators are going to be getting alot of calls from interested parties... but more on Mobile TV later.

* Flarion was an AxiCom client until its acquisition by Qualcomm

No comments: