Russian LTE deployments gathering pace

Russia is gearing up to hold its first LTE spectrum auction in the second half of 2015, although a lack of auctions has not stopped the country's mobile operators pressing ahead with rollouts of the technology.

Instead, the country's operators have picked up LTE spectrum in a series of bidding rounds held in 2010 and 2012, a spokesman for the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) explained.

Under this process, Russia's four leading operators--MTS, VimpelCom, Rostelecom (Tele2) and MegaFon--have each won spectrum in the 720-750 MHz, 761-791 MHz and 2500-2690 MHz frequencies, and have each recently been allowed to refarm 1800 MHz spectrum for LTE services under a technology neutrality decision made by the nation's regulator, the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.

To date, at least 10 LTE service licences have been issued using the bidding process.

However, LTE uptake among subscribers remains low. Ovum senior analyst Alla Shabelnikova told FierceWireless:Europe that LTE penetration currently stands at 3 per cent of all mobile connections in the country, while the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has the figure at 5 per cent.

While growing smartphone penetration is fuelling demand for mobile data, today the bulk of Russian mobile subscribers are on pre-pay, 2G tariffs. According to the GSA, some 64 per cent of Russia's 246 million mobile connections were 2G at end-March, with 3G users accounting for 31 per cent.

Shabelnikova explained that Russia currently sits around two years behind Western Europe in terms of LTE deployments, but added that the country has closed the gap compared to its 3G rollouts, which she estimated had been as much as four years behind the Western European curve.

LTE networks were available in nearly every region of Russia by the end of 2014, with 199 commercial networks launched at that time, Ericsson's country manager Dmitri Maselsky said. He added that Russia is deploying 3G and LTE networks at the same pace as Western European counterparts, albeit a few years later, and said that there are good reasons "to believe that the mobile data boom is still very much ahead" in the country.

Read more about Russian LTE deployments in our special report, here.--Michael