Feature Article

June 19, 2012

Spectrum Refarming, Auctions Could Add Up to 300 MHz in Many Global Markets by 2016

Spectrum refarming, including the “digital dividend” spectrum made possible by the switch to high-definition TV on alternate spectrum, is expected to free up to 300 MHz in some markets by 2016, according to Maravedis-Rethink.

The new “Digital Dividend and Refarming Policy" report estimates that service providers in Region 1 (Europe, Middle East and Africa) will add 72 MHz of spectrum from the digital dividend, as well as up to 220 MHz of refarmed 900 and 1800 MHz spectrum, which service providers will gain by decommissioning older air interfaces.

Region 2 (Americas) will add 164 MHz of spectrum from the digital dividend and could refarm up to 190 MHz of the 2.6 GHz band as well.

Meanwhile, Region 3 (Asia) will also free 164 MHz spectrum from the digital dividend, plus refarmed spectrum in the 1800 MHz band for a spectrum gain of up to 150 MHz.

"Regional focus will continue to be a priority over global coordination in spectrum management. This will require additional efforts from regulators for a successful digital transition and digital dividend utilization," said Lester Garcia, Maravedis analyst.

Perhaps significantly, though some believe mobile service providers do not need additional spectrum, the Maravedis study argues that additional bandwidth beyond the new digital dividend spectrum will be needed.

But much depends on how fast regulators can clear the digital dividend spectrum. TV broadcasters have a vested interest in extracting concessions for the “taking” of licensed spectrum they once used for TV broadcasting.

"The lack of available digital dividend spectrum for mobile broadband could slow down the growth in numbers of mobile broadband users by 6.3 percent by 2016,” says Caroline Gabriel, research director for Maravedis-Rethink. “This reduction in subscriber uptake would reduce investments in wireless infrastructure by 10.7 percent."

In many markets, spectrum auctions have been delayed. That is the case for the German auctions, for example. U.S. mobile operators already have moved ahead with refarmed spectrum (Sprint Nextel) and new 700-MHz spectrum that are unrelated to eventual digital dividend spectrum auctions anticipated sometime in the future.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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