Taiwan gets world's first LTE service in APT700 band

Asia's band plan for 700MHz could be basis for near-global harmony, though EMEA will only follow after 2020

By Caroline Gabriel

There are high hopes that the 700MHz band could become harmonized LTE spectrum in almost as much of the globe as 1.8GHz, and with better propagation for rural and indoor coverage. Although North America has a different band plan in this spectrum, most Latin American countries are following Asia's APT700 approach, and when the EMEA region opens up the frequencies, its regulators will be under pressure to be as compatible as possible too, to improve device economics and roaming.

The first commercial LTE service in the APT700 band has just gone live, courtesy of Taiwan's FarEasTone, using a network supplied by Ericsson. This is part of a broader agreement with the Swedish vendor, to provide 3G expansion, 4G and core networks.

Backers of a near-global band in 700MHz say it could eventually serve more than 2.1bn people and overtake the current leader in terms of 4G build-out, the 1.8GHz former GSM spectrum. FarEasTone won licences in both these bands at last year's auction in Taiwan, but passed on the other frequency on offer, 900MHz.

That has been less popular than 1.8GHz as a candidate for 2G refarming, because it has lower capacity and because many carriers will keep it for GSM for the foreseeable future - for universal coverage, M2M and other purposes - while migrating 1.8GHz to LTE. However, LTE900 is being adopted in some areas, particularly the Middle East, and Vodafone Czech Republic has used it, in combination with 3G, to support its Turbo Internet offering. The LTE900 element now covers 54% of the country, though its speeds are closer to those of 3G than new generation 4G, at 16.5Mbps peak.

The EMEA region opened up 800MHz as its first sub-1GHz, digital dividend band for LTE, while some other parts of the world led on 700MHz. Europe, the Middle East and Africa will eventually harness 700MHz for wireless too, and will have their proposals in place for the next World Radio Conference, with a view to commercial services in the early years of the next decade.

As so often, UK regulator Ofcom is an early mover in defining the rules. It has launched a consultation into changing the allocation of the 700MHz digital TV band, aiming to move broadcasting out of the spectrum by 2022. France, Sweden and Finland have also announced plans to use the band.

Under the Ofcom proposals, the release of 700MHz spectrum would come after that of 190MHz of capacity in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, which are currently controlled by the Ministry of Defence and will be made available during the 2015/16 financial year. The 700MHz sale could follow as early as 2016, but 2020 is a more probable date.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: "Ofcom's role is to ensure the UK makes the best and most efficient use of its airwaves, which is vital to enable UK's digital economy to meet consumers' needs. Our plans will allow digital terrestrial TV to thrive, while ensuring the UK's mobile infrastructure can support consumer demand and economic growth."

The consultation closes on August 29, with Ofcom expected to publish its plans in late 2014 or early 2015. It claims a major switchover of TV aerials, as seen in 800MHz, will not be necessary this time.

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