Ireland needs to move fast on 4G spectrum plans

22 Jun 2011

Ireland needs to get moving on the 900MHz spectrum issue, urges IrelandOffline. It has proposed creating a new single operator that will serve other mobile operators in managing 900MHz and 1,800MHz spectrum networks to 100pc of the country.

As news emerged today that UK regulator Ofcom has given mobile operators the green light to trade spectrum in a move that will increase mobile network capacity in the UK, the lobby group IrelandOffline has hit out at this country’s lack of clarity on the subject.

The 900Mhz slice of spectrum enabled the traditional 2G networks. But today, as more and more devices are 3G-based and moves are afoot to move to 4G spectrum in the 1800MHz and 2100Mhz spectrum areas, it is high time the 900MHz spectrum is opened up.

“There is no reason why there should not be 100pc coverage in a small country such as Ireland by now. One hundred per cent coverage was understandably not a condition of the original GSM licences owing to cost at the time of issue and no operator today is obliged to cover more than 85pc of the population … except that we all know they do.

“Nor were the original GSM licences amended to require 100pc coverage at any stage despite such an objective being a reasonable and proportionate one for any telecommunications regulator in a developed economy.

“We do not intend to go back to 85pc population coverage again because of some regulatory foul up by ComReg. Eighty-five per cent population coverage in Ireland is circa 60pc geographic coverage,” IrelandOffline said.

One mobile network operator to serve all operators

IrelandOffline proposes voice and text should be 100pc available across the country between now and the expiry of the existing 9000MHz licences in 2013 and with 100pc 1,800MHz spectrum coverage as distinct from 70pc to 80pc today.

It says universal data services at a minimum of 128Kbps should be 100pc available after year one and that this should rise to 1Mbps after two years of a new regime commencing.

To achieve these targets would mean creating a shared radio access network (RAN) owned by one company (RANCO) that will install the required masts in locations operators don’t view as viable today, or they could provide existing masts to the RANCO in return for equity.

IrelandOffline argues it would be much cheaper to supply 100pc of national wireless coverage on one network.

“This network will require 4,000 cells on day 1 and up to 10,000 cells within two years. Operators can compete with their own network in cities and large towns, which is where they want to compete. Geographically, 80pc of Ireland is a burden for any mobile operator and they make their money in the remaining 20pc.

“It is desirable that (the) RANCO is to be given the Universal Service Obligation in areas where ADSL is not available or programmed to be delivered and also in SAC/SPA and National Parks where population is low and where planning constraints are onerous.

“RANCO is to provide low latency (not mobile) services in these area in addition to mobile-based (3GPP standard) technologies.”

IrelandOffline says the existing proposal from ComReg is to shut down a working network that has 100pc population coverage today and replace it with one or two networks that will initially only support 85pc coverage.

“The loss of service will be more profoundly felt in rural areas,” it warned.

It urges that RANCO consultation and creation must predate any spectrum auctions and that the NewERa NGN plan must have a single network design to plug their fibre backhaul into.

“Time is running short. Hop to it ComReg before you destroy the two most valuable networks in Ireland come 2013. In genuinely advanced countries none of this matters, they have already licensed their new mobile spectrum and rolled out their networks. We have not even started the regulatory process,” IrelandOffline said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years