Tolaga: AWS spectrum dominant band for LTE in Americas

Dianne Northfield Tolaga Research

Dianne Northfield

The Americas are home to 25 percent of the world's commercial LTE deployments, with networks deployed across 15 countries in the region. Single band deployments dominate, representing 85 percent of live LTE networks across the region.

The most popular spectrum for LTE is the AWS 1.7/2.1 GHz band with 33 percent of both single and multi-band deployments using this spectrum, as shown in Exhibit 1, below. Use of 700 MHz spectrum takes second place with a role in 20 percent of LTE networks in the region. The Exhibit represents the use of different spectrum bands for LTE across the region either in single band use or as part of multi-band spectrum combinations.

Exhibit 1: Radio spectrum bands used for LTE deployments in the Americas

Source: Tolaga Research LTE Market Monitor, Tolaga Research Radio Spectrum Intelligence, 2013

Operators in North America have launched LTE networks using spectrum spanning the 700 MHz, 850  MHz, AWS, PCS and 2600 MHz spectrum ranges. The United States boasts a wide array of 4G LTE deployment models spanning launches by national and regional operators, operators using leased spectrum, and LTE services provided by MVNOs.

Many regional carriers in the United States have entered into partnerships as part of their 4G deployment strategies under one of two scenarios. The NetAmerica Alliance was formed in 2009, as an organization designed to facilitate and assist small and rural carriers in the deployment of 4G networks and services. Meanwhile, Verizon is leasing 700 MHz spectrum to rural carriers under its Rural America Program whereby partners also gain access to Verizon's network coverage areas throughout the nation. Under the program, regional carriers are deploying their own 4G networks along with individual service and pricing plans that are not linked to those of Verizon.

When operators using leased spectrum for the provision of commercial LTE services are taken into consideration, then the LTE spectrum profile in the United States is skewed towards 700 MHz as the dominant band.

On the other hand, service providers in Canada are primarily using AWS spectrum for LTE as they await the auction of 700 MHz spectrum, which is scheduled for January 2014. A total of 56 MHz of paired 700 MHz spectrum along with 12 MHz of unpaired TDD spectrum will be auctioned across 14 service areas. Rogers Communications and Bell Mobility in Canada are also using 2600 MHz paired spectrum for the delivery of LTE services.

The most diversity in LTE spectrum use is seen among service providers in Latin America. Here service providers are using spectrum across the following bands: 850 MHz, 700 MHz, 1800 MHz, PCS, AWS and paired spectrum in the 2600 MHz band. The general lack of availability of lower band spectrum resources in Latin America is set to change as regulators across the region are ramping up plans for the allocation of 700 MHz spectrum. The majority of nations in the Latin America have signed onto the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) channelization plan for the band, which means that up to 2 x 45 MHz will be available for allocation within the 703-748/758-8-3 MHz range.

Dianne Northfield is the vice president of research at Tolaga Research where she specializes in interpreting global, regional and national approaches to communications policy and regulation. Northfield draws upon over 20 years of expertise in cataloging and analyzing global wireless spectrum allocation and use, along with the evolution of the 4G LTE market.