Refarming 1800MHz key to LTE roaming

There are plenty of incentives to refarm 1800MHz spectrum for LTE usage, but the biggest one may be to facilitate LTE roaming more quickly and widely, operators said Tuesday.
LTE1800 was a dominating theme during the opening day of the LTE Asia conference in Singapore, with executives from StarHub, CSL and Telstra discussing ongoing plans to refarm their 1800MHz frequencies and the subsequent advantages of doing so.
“You can reuse sites and equipment, and you get better coverage than you do at 2.6GHz, including indoor coverage,” says Peter Cook, vice president for mobile network engineering at StarHub, which plans to launch LTE1800 in 4Q this year. “You can reduce your site count up to 30% compared to 2.6GHz LTE for equivalent coverage and speed,” he adds.
For many operators, it’s also a way to launch next generation mobile broadband services without having to wait for local governments to allocate 4G spectrum, says Mike Wright, executive director for networks and access technologies at Telstra, which aims to launch full LTE1800 services before the end of the year.
“We don’t expect to get either [700MHz] digital dividend spectrum or 2.6GHz spectrum for another few years, so the question for us has been what to do in the meantime,” he said.
The same is true in Indonesia, said Toni Agus Pribadi, head of the network monitoring quality division of Indosat, which has been trialing LTE1800 partly as a proof-of-concept for the regulator that spectrum refarming is viable. “The regulator hasn’t yet allocated LTE frequencies and has postponed this for the next two years, so 1800 is our only chance to deploy LTE,” he noted during a separate session.
Mark Liversidge, chief marketing officer for CSL, which plans to roll out LTE1800 over the next 12 months, said refarming 1800MHz spectrum is important because it’s a key band to facilitate LTE roaming.  “In-band roaming is a critical revenue line for us,” he said.
StarHub’s Peter Cook agrees. “Many operators have 1800 spectrum, and most have between 10MHz and 25MHz of it, which is enough to provide LTE services.”
The roaming issue is a key one for LTE, not least because of the plethora of frequency bands that have been assigned to it, Charles Moon, principal analyst Asia-Pacific for Informa Telecoms & Media believes. “In China alone, we’ll see seven LTE bands [including TDD frequencies], and six in Japan, and six across the Southeast Asia region,” he said. “Roaming will be a major issue in the short-to-medium term.”
Pradeep de Almeida, group CTO of Dialog Telekom, also said that roaming is one of the most important factors in the harmonization debate. He notes 1800MHz is the “base play” from a roaming perspective. “There’s a lot of it available, so while we’re waiting for 700MHz, 1800 is the best bet,” he said.
Currently, six operators have commercially launched LTE1800, according to the Global mobile Suppliers Association – five in Europe and Singapore’s M1 (albeit the latter offers limited coverage to corporate customers only), with StarHub, Telstra and CSL expected to be the next operators in Asia to launch LTE1800 commercially.

Another 15 operators are either deploying it or trialing LTE1800, including Optus, Vodafone Australia, SmarTone-Vodafone, Indosat, Celcom and AIS-DPC. And SK Telecom is expected to deploy LTE1800 in spectrum it purchased last week for $926.3 million.