UAE claims mobile broadband first for harmonising 700/800 MHz bands

The telecoms regulator for the United Arab Emirates has allocated spectrum in both the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands for mobile broadband services, making the UAE the first country in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to harmonise the allocation of frequencies in the two bands.

In a statement, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said it will combine the 800 MHz band plan for EMEA with the lower portion of the Asia Pacific 700 MHz (APT700) band.

The regulator believes that such a move will be a significant boost to operators, as it will achieve almost global interoperability and roaming.

"The UAE is predicting a rising demand for global harmonisation of the APT 700 MHz band benefiting in the growing ecosystem of devices from Asia Pacific across the Middle East and Africa, through to Latin America," said H.E. Majed Al Mesmar, the deputy director general for the telecommunications sector.

Mobile operators will be able to utilise the lower duplexer of the APT700 (2x30 MHz) band as a base line. An additional 2x10 MHz may also be made available to boost spectral efficiency and to enable public protection and disaster relief applications.

The TRA said mobile voice penetration is already high in the UAE, and future growth will depend on the development of mobile broadband. In order to achieve this, it said, operators will need to have access to additional spectrum, which should be released in a globally harmonised way.

The move by the UAE was welcomed by the GSMA which said in a statement that combining the 800 MHz band plan for EMEA with the lower portion of the Asia Pacific (APT) 700 MHz band "is a significant step forward."

"The mobile broadband market in the Arab States is set to increase by 255 per cent by 2017 to 142 million connections, with the potential to generate US$108 billion in GDP between 2015 and 2025," said Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer at the GSMA. "With such clear economic benefits, we hope other markets will follow quickly with similar decisions."

In March this year, the TRA reported that there were 14.32 million active mobile subscribers in the UAE, with a penetration rate per 100 inhabitants of 173.7. The country also has 981,855 broadband users, with a penetration rate of 11.9 per 100 inhabitants.

The regulator has also previously said that 50 per cent of the handsets registered on networks in the UAE are Nokia handsets, followed by BlackBerry (10.7 per cent), Samsung (10.7 per cent), Apple (8.4 per cent) and Sony Ericsson (1.5 per cent). In terms of smartphones alone, the iPhone 4S is the most popular smartphone in the UAE, followed by iPhone 4, Samsung SIII, iPhone 5, Blackberry Bold 9900 and Blackberry Bold 9780. Interestingly, the study also showed that the most commonly used mobile handset operating system in the UAE is currently Symbian with a 50 per cent market share, followed by iOS (13.8 per cent), Blackberry (10.7 per cent) and Android (10.4 per cent).

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