Higher speed mobile broadband needs spectrum issue resolved

4 Nov 2010

Ireland risks being held back in making faster mobile broadband speeds available to consumers, one of the technology’s leading providers has warned.

LTE (long term evolution) is the successor to current 3G mobile broadband formats, such as HSPA (high speed packet access) and HSPA+ and it promises much higher speeds and greater capacity on mobile networks. At the upper end of the radio spectrum, LTE can reach up to 160Mbps download speeds and 58Mbps uploads.

However, some of the radio spectrum LTE needs is currently allocated for other uses in Ireland. For example, the 800 MHz frequency band won’t become available until the State’s analogue TV service has been switched off. Ireland has lagged Europe in this area, and the switch to full digital TV won’t happen until 2012 – meaning LTE services on that frequency band are unlikely to become available until the following year.

“The big issue is availability of spectrum and we would suggest the process needs to be speeded up. Ireland has led the way in other forms of mobile broadband,” said Ger O’Byrne, Nokia Siemens Networks’ country director in Ireland. He suggested the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands which are currently allocated for GSM traffic could be “split” and shared with LTE, as has happened in France. Failure to act could hamper the Government’s plans to position Ireland as a smart economy, O’Byrne added.

“Our current economic situation is all the more reason why we should do this. We need to get away from the digital divide and we can’t all have fibre to the home. LTE is a very cost-effective solution to that,” he said. Speeds wouldn’t be as high as 100Mbps at 800Hz and 900Hz bands, but the tradeoff would be increased broadband coverage at closer to 40Mbps from operators’ existing base stations,” said O’Byrne.

At a briefing in Dublin this week to demo the technology, Nokia Siemens Networks showcased a high-definition 3D TV feed being downloaded over a test LTE 2.6GHz network with no delay, at speeds of more than 100Mbps. Aside from consumer applications like movies and games, the technology also has business applications in areas like real-time collaboration. Latency is also much lower than current mobile broadband, at 10-20 milliseconds, which practically eliminates delay in video-conferencing calls.

Mobile broadband access demand forecast

Nokia Siemens Networks is forecasting an upsurge in demand for mobile broadband access in the years ahead. According to a study commissioned by the company, laptop data will grow by 1,000pc and smart device data by 10,000pc between 2009 and 2014. While smartphone and tablet devices aren’t widely used today, the study predicts these devices will outnumber laptops by 2015 and will be downloading the same volume of data – a massive 23 exabytes – by then.

The challenge facing mobile operators will be to handle this increasing traffic load, scale their networks accordingly, while providing reliable services to customers at attractive prices. Downloading a YouTube video, for example, needs the same network capacity as it would take to send half a million text messages simultaneously, said Arne Schälicke, global LTE marketing manager with Nokia Siemens Networks. “The threat to operators is that 40pc of customers are likely to churn (switch operators) over issues like speed, coverage and reliability,” he added.

Nokia Siemens Networks first demonstrated LTE technology in 2006 at speeds of 160Mbps but it has since switched its focus from speed tests to making the technology commercially available. So far, it has signed 17 LTE deals with operators worldwide. The Swedish mobile network TeliaSonera has already launched LTE commercially and is pitching it as a premium service to users, priced at around €65 per month (599SEK) for access, the mobile broadband dongle and a 30Gb per month data cap. T-Mobile in Germany switched on the first part of its LTE network in August. “We see 2010 as the year when LTE starts deployment and next year we expect it to become a reality,” said Schälicke.

Whether Ireland will be a part of the next wave remains to be seen. A spokesman for ComReg told Siliconrepublic that the regulator is “currently advancing these matters” and pointed out that it held a public consultation on LTE which closed last Friday, 29 October. “ComReg will ensure that this will be advanced in a fair, balanced and timely manner. “ComReg is currently in the process of releasing spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and possibly 1800 MHz bands which will be suitable for advanced technologies and services,” said the spokesman.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic