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Europe's lack of 800 MHz digital dividend spectrum reins in LTE

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Europe's failure to quickly make 800 MHz digital dividend spectrum available for use by mobile operators is hampering expanded LTE rollouts, according to research firm Wireless Intelligence.

European operators have deployed LTE in a variety of bands, but the mostly used bands--1800 MHz and 2600 MHz--do not allow for efficient deployment outside of densely populated urban areas, wrote Joss Gillett, senior analyst for the firm, in a Mobile World Live column. The 800 MHz band is used in less than 10 percent of commercially launched LTE networks in Europe, he added.

LTE accounts for less than 1 percent of total mobile connections in Europe, and Wireless Intelligence forecasts that less than 20 percent of total mobile connections in the region will have migrated to LTE by 2017.

Digital dividend spectrum encompasses the frequencies released by the switch from analog to digital TV broadcast transmissions. Germany moved quickly to switch off analog TV, and German operators rapidly deployed LTE in the digital dividend band in rural areas, as required by licensing conditions, making them the exception rather than the rule. Germany will likely remain Europe's largest LTE market during the next five years, said Gillett.

The European Commission's Radio Spectrum Policy Program required all 27 European Union member states to make the 800 MHz band available for mobile broadband services by Jan. 2, 2013, said Gillett. However, 18 countries, which represent almost half of total mobile connections in the region, have missed the deadline.

The United States completed its analog-to-digital TV transition in June 2009, and major U.S. operators Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) have aggressively deployed LTE using U.S. digital dividend spectrum in the 700 MHz band.

The FCC's rush to auction this highly encumbered spectrum has prompted legal and regulatory battles between large and small U.S. operators over the issue of device interoperability across 700 MHz spectrum bands. Nonetheless, the rapid LTE rollout by leading U.S. operators has also led to widespread availability of LTE-enabled smartphones in the United States, while Europe's slow LTE rollout has resulted in limited LTE smartphone portfolios in that region.

"The aggressive LTE network rollouts in the digital dividend band in the U.S. fueled the rapid development of attractive smartphones, with these devices representing two thirds of U.S. operators' smartphone portfolios," said Gillett.

European mobile operators are expected to focus on existing HSPA offers until 800 MHz frequencies are more widely allocated, he added.

In the United States, the next major auctions for mobile broadband spectrum are expected to occur in 2014, when the FCC initiates incentive auctions for broadcast TV spectrum in the 600 MHz band. Under the FCC's proposed rules, broadcasters will submit bids to relinquish their 6 MHz pieces of spectrum in a reverse auction where the FCC will pay them.

For more:
- see this Mobile World Live article

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