Operators ponder free spectrum

Operators ponder free spectrum – Industry Trend or Event

Michelle Donegan

Mobile operators are in a quandary over the unlicensed 10 megahertz of unpaired 3G spectrum that has been allocated for non-commercial applications, such as indoor coverage in private networks. They cannot decide whether license-exempt 3G spectrum use is a threat or an opportunity for future services.

“This is potentially a thorny issue,” said Ivan Groxford, a consultant at Re: Think! of London. “But no one has focused on what to do with it.”

While some operators have indicated that these 3G-type applications will compete unfairly with their 3G services in the public network, the GSM Europe group–representing Europe’s mobile operators–does not yet have a formal position, but is debating its impact in a working group. Some actors in the market, however, consider the issue of unlicensed 3G spectrum unimportant, including Mike Short, director of international strategy at BT Cellnet.

The European Commission has indicated that it is too early to take a view on the uses of unlicensed 3G spectrum, which may be due to the fact that the operators themselves are undecided.

Analysts view unlicensed spectrum use as a potential catalyst for 3G services. “[Mobile operators] should see it as a means of kickstarting the market. If a business is looking to do 3G-like applications, it could help stimulate 3G services,” said Croxford.

And user groups are keen to promote the available unlicensed 3G spectrum so that businesses can build pico cells in private networks.

“There is a strong desire on the part of businesses and universities to set up. their own pico cells once 3G is widely available,” said Ewan Sutherland, executive director of the International TelecommunicationsUsers Group (INTUG). “Mobile operators clearly don’t like it.”

Operators should view the unlicensed spectrum as a complement to public network services, say analysts. “Some operators do look at the potential of this radio spectrum for complementary services and revenue,” said Stephen Pentland, a partner with Spectrum Strategy, of London.

But there will be grey areas concerning what constitutes a private service or a public service. For example, if a wireless service is offered at a hotel using unlicensed spectrum, then it has to be billed as part of the room charge and not as a separate wireless service.

“There needs to be clarification that allows reasonable exploitation of this technology,” said Pentland. There is also a major standardization issue to be resolved regarding the level of transmit power in the equipment, which is preventing equipment development.

“They haven’t set the standard yet for level of transmit power,” said Groxford. “If it’s not set, manufacturers won’t start making equipment. Also, no one will do applications if there are no restrictions for transmit power [because of interference concerns].”

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