Feature Article

August 29, 2011

Spectrum-'You Can't Always Get What You Want'

By TMCnet Special Guest
Frank Rayal, VP of Product Management, BLiNQ

The spectrum auction in Spain has left many carriers scrambling for ways to meet the need for 4G. Only three of the four incumbent carriers managed to get what they needed. Those 3 were: Telefonica (O2), Orange and Vodafon. Each managed to secure 2x10 MHz license in the 800 MHz digital dividend band. However, the fourth operator, Yoigo, which is owned by TeliaSonera, did not secure any spectrum.

This was a repeat of the results of other auctions held in Sweden earlier this year and in Germany in 2010 where the largest of the four incumbents, T-Mobile, O2 and Vodafone, split up the 800 MHz ‘digital dividend’ band leaving the smallest operator, KPN owned E-Plus, with none. On-going auctions in other European countries, such as the one currently underway in France, may well yield similar results because there just isn’t enough ‘beachfront’ spectrum in the 800 MHz band to accommodate four operators particularly since LTE best operates in wide channel bandwidth such as 2x10 or 2x20 MHz.

Fortunately, there are a number of available solutions, each with a price tag and benefits. However, for the sake of brevity, I’d like to highlight one that I believe provides the best solution for the spectrum dilemma.

Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) wireless backhaul, which uses frequency spectrum that falls between prime access spectrum and microwave backhaul spectrum, covers bands in 2 and 3 GHz. This solution is scalable to support relatively large number of small cells because of low marginal cost per link. It is quick to deploy and, most importantly, saves on either or both capital and operational expenditures of fiber or other wireline backhaul methods that makes such solutions prohibitively expensive.

Spectrum is one of the main cost drivers in wireless applications. NLOS backhaul spectrum in 2 and 3 GHz is available in abundance, especially in European markets where it has been planned for fixed wireless access services that have very limited applicability in dense urban areas where mobile broadband is highly desired. NLOS backhaul spectrum licenses can be obtained on national or regional basis for a set number of years (usually 20) at a fixed price which is a fraction of what MNOs typically pay for access spectrum. For example, one MHz in 2 or 3 GHz band costs less than 2 cents per inhabitant versus over 50 cents per inhabitant for prime access spectrum (such as that in 700 or 800 MHz). This licensing model lends itself well to the small cell backhaul application since adding more links results in lower cost per link making the business case scalable and more attractive to support a potentially large number of small cells.

The other aspect is related to ease of deployment. Small cell can become an expensive proposition if each cell needs to be planned in the same way as a macro cell and the leasehold has to be done cell by cell. What operators are looking for is simplicity and ease of planning, design and deployment that allows them to scale their deployment at low cost. NLOS backhaul allows operators to design backhaul in a similar manner to designing their access network – a process they are well equipped for and used to. Line-of-sight microwave and E-band solutions, when the deployment allows, need to be planned and aligned individually resulting in higher cost. For this reason, I view NLOS backhaul as a complement to fiber and microwave solutions which provide high capacity and connectivity to the core, while NLOS backhaul extends the reach of these solutions to the last few hundred meters into the urban clutter.

A further cost saving feature of NLOS backhaul is that it can operate in a multipoint configuration. Multi-point backhaul not only saves capital and operational expenditure because of fewer deployed hardware module, but most importantly, limits the number of connections to the core network. This saves on additional backhaul expenses between the hub modules and the core network resulting in higher savings the greater number of supported multi-points.

In conclusion, NLOS wireless backhaul provides a scalable and cost effective solution for compact base station backhaul. This allows MNOs to resolve capacity hotspots in the urban areas where traffic demands are highest and can therefore delay the deployment of LTE until additional spectrum is secured, or alternative methods are developed to migrate to LTE. 3G small cells are not meant to replace LTE deployments because LTE provides the platform for future capacity evolution. However, they do provide an interim solution that is cost effective and can serve the MNOs well by increasing the lifecycle of 3G investments until LTE is more mature, more devices are available and a long-term migration plan is devised.

Want to learn more about 4G wireless technologies? Then be sure to attend the 4GWE Conference, collocated with TMC’s ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. The 4GWE Conference provides unmatched networking opportunities and a robust conference program representing the wireless ecosystem. The conference not only brings together the best and brightest in the wireless industry, it actually spans the communications and technology industry. To register, click here.

Frank Rayal – VP of Product Management

Frank brings over 17 years of experience in the wireless industry with a thorough knowledge and experience in access and backhaul technologies. He has defined a line of innovative compact base stations and established strategic alliances at Redline Communications where he led product management for 4G wireless access networks. At Ericsson, Frank worked extensively with mobile network operators to deploy three networks in the Americas, after which he defined sales and market entry strategies at Metawave Communications for a GSM smart antenna system. Frank holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, and a MASc in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Toronto, Canada.

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Edited by Rich Steeves

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