European LTE to move forward with UK, Italy launches

The prospects for LTE in Europe got a big boost with news that Everything Everywhere and 3 Italia intend to have LTE networks up and running by year's end.

Everything Everywhere, a joint venture of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, had said its LTE plans hinged on receiving permission from the United Kingdom's regulatory watchdog Ofcom to use its existing 1800 MHz spectrum for an LTE ntetwork. Everything Everywhere will reportedly spend 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) to upgrade its network.

Everything Everywhere, which combines the spectrum licenses belonging to FT's Orange and DT's T-Mobile UK operations, is in the unique position of having excess 1800 MHz spectrum that it can refarm for LTE. Another UK company planning an LTE launch is UK Broadband (UKB), a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong's PCCW that is launching a wholesale TD-LTE network in the 3.5 GHz band.

Opponents of Ofcom's provisional OK to Everything Everywhere have until April 17 to register their views. Rival operators are expected to argue that Everything Everywhere will gain an unfair advantage by being able to deploy LTE this year, given that they lack the necessary spectrum to deploy LTE and must wait until they can get their hands on more frequencies. Ofcom has delayed from 1Q12 to 4Q12 plans for an auction of unused spectrum in the 800 MHz band, along with higher-frequency airwaves in the 2.6GHz band, and rumors are the auction could yet be delayed into 2013.

Italy, meanwhile, is making some serious LTE waves. Hutchinson Whampoa's 3 Italia (H3G Italia), aiming to be the first LTE operator in Italy, signed a contract with long-time infrastructure partner Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) for a new LTE network as well as an upgrade to its existing HSPA network to HSPA+ 42.

"We are making HSPA+ coverage available on the entire nationwide network from the end of March and will launch LTE services already in 2012. Our network will become even more efficient at handling data traffic, ensuring a better quality of experience for our customers," said Vincenzo Novari, 3 Italia's CEO, in a press statement.

3 Italia won licenses in the 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz band in a late September 2011 spectrum license auction. In that auction, Wind Comunicazioni (Wind Italy) won 800 MHz spectrum and bought four lots of FDD spectrum, while Telecom Italia Mobile bought 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum,  and Vodafone Italy bought spectrum in the 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. Bands.

Nordic countries have been the early LTE leaders in Europe. TeliaSonera, which became the world's first LTE operator with launches in Stockholm and Oslo during December 2009, recently said it has reached 100,000 customers on its Nordic LTE networks, with the majority in Sweden. Rival operator Tele2 has accumulated about 40,000 LTE subscribers in Sweden, while Telenor would has admitted to LTE subscriber numbers in the "five figures."

In addition, Vodafone Portugal, Telecomunicacoes Moveis Nacionais (TMN) and Optimus reportedly launched LTE service this week in Portugal, using licenses they won in a December 2011 auction that covered 450MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz bands.

However, most of Europe has lagged in deploying LTE, largely because suitable spectrum licenses have not been issued. European authorities liberalized spectrum use in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands, but most operators are focused on upgrading their GSM operations in the 900 MHz band with HSPA rather than using that spectrum for new LTE networks.

In September 2011, France's telecoms regulator Arcep announced it would issue 2.6 GHz frequency band licenses for LTE deployments to all four of the nation's mobile operators, and Orange France has said it will launch an LTE network in 2013. Nearly one year ago, Germany's largest mobile operator, Deutsche Telekom (DT), launched its LTE network, but it is obliged by its 800MHz license conditions to deploy LTE into "white spot" areas, or those lacking DSL access, before making the service more generally available across Germany. DT's LTE launch followed Vodafone Germany's, which is also focusing on rural areas initially.

European leaders have banded together to thrust the region into more aggressive next-generation network launches. In February 2012, the European Parliament announced approval of its first radio spectrum policy program (RSPP) designed to help coordinate the use of digital-dividend spectrum for LTE and WiMAX. Under the program, member nations must authorize the use of the 800 MHz band, currently used for analog TV, for wireless broadband by Jan. 1, 2013.

Justifying its effort to push member nations in the desired direction, the parliament noted, "Although the management of radio frequencies remains a national responsibility, the EU has played an important role by coordinating policy and setting standards, especially in mobile communications."

For more:
- see this Ofcom post
- see this Ericsson release
- see this article
- see this other article
- see this GigaOm article
- see this other GigaOm article
- see this Telegeography article
- see this LteWorld article

Related articles:
Everything Everywhere gets approval to refarm 2G spectrum for LTE
Study: Global LTE subscriber base nearly doubled in 4Q11
TeliaSonera plans LTE expansion and VoLTE despite iPad snub
AT&T looks to refarm 2G spectrum, urges customers to upgrade