Posts Tagged ‘2.6GHz’

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Wi-Fi offload won’t reduce the need for more mobile spectrum

February 5, 2014

During the Wi-Fi Offload Summit in Frankfurt on Jan. 23, a number of interesting developments in the Wi-Fi space were presented. A key question for mobile operators is whether Wi-Fi offload reduces the growth in mobile broadband (HSPA and LTE) traffic and thus the need for more mobile spectrum.

Research presented by Deutsche Telecom from tests in Hamburg and Rotterdam showed that when Wi-Fi is advertised and available free of charge in a particular area, this immediately generates substantial Wi-Fi traffic but does not reduce the volume of mobile data traffic. Towerstream Inc. presented conflicting evidence from its outdoor Wi-Fi offload network in New York.

From other findings presented, it is clear that both Wi-Fi and LTE traffic are increasing dramatically. Perhaps what is at work here is the Jevons paradox, which proposes that as technology progresses, the increase in efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. The increasing availability of free Wi-Fi coupled with a rapid uptake of smartphones and cheap tablets would underpin this theory as one feeds off the other.

The growth in Wi-Fi is also driven by the desire of shops and malls to engage with shoppers on their in-store Wi-Fi networks. There is marketing value for retailers to have shoppers on their Wi-Fi network as soon as the shopper walks into the store. EE in the U.K. is turning this into a small business line, equipping supermarkets such as ASDA with a Wi-Fi infrastructure. Rather than identifying shoppers at the checkout when they swipe their loyalty card, ASDA hopes to be able to identify and engage with shoppers from the minute they are within the store’s Wi-Fi coverage. For example, coupons could be sent to a handset at the beginning of the shopping trip and can be used right away rather than languishing at the bottom of a shopping bag. This is just one of the many marketing benefits of free in-store Wi-Fi.

The simultaneous growth in Wi-Fi and LTE traffic may also be explained by the fact that Wi-Fi has other uses compared to cellular. The proliferation of TV Anywhere apps turns tablets and laptops into TV outlets, and in Canada, Bell has launched the first wireless TV proposition. TV over Wi-Fi creates a surge of Wi-Fi traffic in residential areas. Other devices in offices, public indoor spaces and outdoors rely increasingly on Wi-Fi connectivity because it is cheaper and more flexible than cable connections. This all takes Wi-Fi capacity in cities and raises the Wi-Fi noise floor.

In regard to the rapid adoption of tablets, all are Wi-Fi-enabled, but few are 3G (HSPA) or LTE-enabled. As people take these tablets out of their homes they will look for Wi-Fi access, thus increasing Wi-Fi hotspot usage. However, smartphones have a personal hotspot feature and where tablets are not in Wi-Fi coverage, we are seeing “cellular on-loading” from Wi-Fi devices.

Having paid for a shiny new LTE device, some customers would prefer to pay another €10-20 a month rather than having to faff about with logging onto Wi-Fi. Asking smartphone users to choose between LTE and Wi-Fi is the antithesis of a ubiquitous mobile broadband experience. However, Wi-Fi 2.0 with SIM-based authentication increases the ease of Wi-Fi access and may even be transparent to the user.

Another factor which determines the amount of LTE vs. Wi-Fi traffic are the policies for applications set in smartphones. For example, which bearer is allowed or preferred for which application. Some apps do not work via LTE; for example. FaceTime on the iPhone. In the U.S., the first version of the iPhone 5 with iOS 6 did allow FaceTime over LTE. This came as a bit of a shock to cellular operators as AT&T blocked FaceTime over cellular on most plans, but subsequently changed the policy. What cellular operators really want is to be able to set policies dynamically based on the app, the location, time of day and perhaps even the type of customer.

Nevertheless, most mobile operators have some Wi-Fi offload strategy. The focus is not so much on relieving congestion in busy areas but to deliver an “always best connected” value proposition. In short, LTE and Wi-Fi complement each other. The growth in Wi-Fi does not reduce the need for more cellular spectrum to serve the growth in mobile broadband traffic.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting

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Bidders in spectrum auction attach a high value to 1800MHz spectrum

October 25, 2013

The multi-band combinatorial spectrum auction (CCA) in Austria ended on the 21st of October, with bidders paying €2,014 million for 2x30MHz of 800MHz, 2x35MHz of 900MHz and 2x75MHz of 1800MHz spectrum. The 800MHz spectrum was new spectrum whereas the two other bands were renewals. The only bidders were the three incumbent operators Austria Telekom, T-Mobile, Hutchison.

The overall price paid for sub-1GHz spectrum and the 1800MHz spectrum amounted to €0.85/MHz/pop. This is only slightly less than the implied price for the sub-1GHz spectrum of €0.96/MHz/pop.

The price for sub-1 GHz spectrum is roughly in line with prices paid for 800MHz spectrum in recent European auctions.  The price paid for 800MHz spectrum in Germany was €0.73/MHz/pop (May 2010) and the average in Europe during 2010 to 2013 was €0.52/MHz/pop. So the price paid in Austria for 800MHz spectrum is relatively high. Benchmark prices paid to renew 900MHz spectrum are in the €0.19-0.53 range whereas the implied price paid in Austria amounts to €0.96/MHz/pop.

Exhibit 1: Austrian Spectrum Auction Results

Austria

 

However, since the overall price per MHz per pop paid is only slightly lower than the implied price for sub-1GHz spectrum, this means that operators valued the 1800Mhz spectrum very highly at €0.76/MHz pop.  This is significantly above prices paid for 1800MHz spectrum in recent auctions, and certainly massively more than prices paid for 2.6GHz spectrum. Benchmark prices paid to renew 1800MHz spectrum are in the €0.10 – 0.21 range.  In this context the comments by Telekom Austria’s CEO Hannes Ametsreiter, referring to a “bitter pill to swallow,” are quite appropriate.

The auction outcome highlights that in the context of the rapid growth of data traffic, spectrum is becoming an ever more valuable resource. The re-farming of 1800MHz from GSM to LTE requires more spectrum in the short term because spectrum resources cannot be used efficiently. In that sense governments can hold a gun to operators’ heads and demand almost any price.

1800MHz spectrum is the spectrum of choice for LTE in Europe. Most operators have built a grid based on 1800MHz and hence the 1800MHz band provides both an LTE capacity and an LTE coverage layer. In contrast 2.6GHz is “only” a capacity band. I placed quotation marks around the word “only” because LTE capacity is of course very important in urban areas and here cell sizes are quite small. Nevertheless, the in-building propagation characteristics of 1800MHz spectrum are significantly better than for 2.6GHz spectrum and in-building capacity matters for mobile broadband.

The auction outcome, with A1 Telekom (Telekom Austria) acquiring 2/3rds of the 800MHz band means that the company now holds 53.8% of sub-1 GHz spectrum compared to a subscriber market share of around 39%. As the operator with the weakest cash flow it is likely that Hutchison faced budget constraints. The result is that the market leader managed has managed to acquire a disproportionate share of spectrum.

The design of the Austrian auction and the absence of effective caps on sub 1GHz spectrum holdings suggest that the Austrian government is not particularly concerned about the effects of spectrum concentration on competition. On the other hand, the spectrum divesture conditions imposed on Hutchison (European Commission, DG Competition, CASE M.6497) to clear its acquisition of One Austria, suggests a very different view of spectrum concentration is applied when it comes to approving in-market consolidation.  The only saving grace for Hutchison is that there was no new entrant and so the requirement to divest 2x10MHz the 2.6GHz frequency band lapses; however the MVNO access requirement remains.

While Hutchison managed to increase its sub-1 GHz spectrum holding from 1.6MHz to 2x5MHz, the cost per eNodeB of deploying LTE is 2x5MHz is roughly the same as for Telekom Austria deploying LTE in 2x15MHz in the same band. Furthermore, there are already many smartphones with 800MHz LTE, where Telekom Austria acquired 2x20MHz, but as yet, none with 900MHz LTE.

In the light of this the comments by Trionow, CEO of H3G, describing the auction as a “disaster for the industry” are understandable. Certainly it is a disaster for Hutchison and for a competitive mobile broadband market in Austria.

 

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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New LTE Bands in European Version of iPhone 5S?

May 24, 2013

When back in September 2012, Apple launched the iPhone5, I commented on the fact that the Region 1 version (Europe and Africa) only included the 1800MHz band for LTE whereas Samsung and HTC already had triple band LTE models in the market with the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

This week came the announcement that Vodafone UK delayed its LTE launch to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 5S. This seems to indicate that that the new version of the iPhone will include three main Region 1 LTE bands.

It was reported that Vodafone’s Group CEO Vittorio Colao commented on the delayed launch: “End of the summer means when there’s going to be a good commercial moment for launching 4G … EE had a little bit of an advantage because of the iPhone at 1800MHz. To be honest that will go away as soon as we launch our 4G.”

The fact that Vodafone UK organised its launch date around a handset speaks volumes of the marketing power of Apple.  Many consumers make handset choices first and network choices second.  Mobile network operators would gain a lot from promoting Android and Windows phones to counteract the marketing power of Apple. 

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting

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How Nokia hopes the new Lumia will light up Asia

November 17, 2011

The launch of the latest Nokia Lumia smartphones could revive Nokia’s presence across Asia and China in particular, but will they come quickly enough? Both the Lumia 710 and 800 Windows phones are scheduled to be available in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and India before the end of 2011, and Nokia will no doubt be working hard to avoid the delays which plagued the launch of too many previous models. However, China will have to wait until “the first half of 2012″ before it sees the much-admired fruits of Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft. In the meantime it seems likely that “unofficial” supplies could filter across to the mainland, which may help to sustain interest until the official launch, although only China Unicom’s network is compatible with the 3G technology currently used in these Lumia models.

It could be down to the diverse 3G standards used by China’s three mobile operators: W-CDMA (the technology used most widely throughout the world) is deployed by China Unicom, CDMA2000 (less widely used, but most notably in North America) is deployed by China Telecom and TD-SCDMA (a standard developed in and currently limited to China) is used by the largest operator, China Mobile. Back in August Colin Giles, Global Head of Sales at Nokia, and formerly Director of Marketing for Asia Pacific and Senior Vice President for Greater China, announced that Nokia will be launching TD-SCDMA compatible Windows Phone 7 handsets in China. So it seems likely the delay is to allow Nokia time to engineer versions of the Lumia phones which can operate on the CDMA2000 and TD-SCDMA standards, allowing Nokia to launch its new smartphones with all three of China’s mobile operators.

With Nokia struggling to maintain its market position in Asia and across the world, clearly an earlier launch in China would have been preferable. However, this strategy does give Nokia one potential advantage against the iPhone: Apple doesn’t have a TD-SCDMA version either and it looks unlikely it ever will. That hasn’t stopped China Mobile from selling the iPhone through a network of partners, acquiring around 10 million iPhone users so far. The iPhone can use China Mobile’s 2.5G network for voice calls and text messaging, but users are limited to wifi for high speed data services. To promote this growth in high value customers, China Mobile is offering rebates in the form of gift cards to customers who buy an iPhone through one of its partners and sign up to a 2g voice and wifi package. In an increasingly competitive market, this “subsidy” is unlikely to be an attractive long term solution for the operator to retain high value customers, and it’s not a good solution for customers who want to use their apps wherever they go. However, many customers prefer these limitations to the unreliable coverage of Apple’s official iPhone partner, China Unicom (although the operator is now working hard to improve its service). So if Nokia is able to offer versions of the Lumia smartphones that work on the 3G network of China’s largest operator, China Mobile, that could be a win-win for both Nokia and the operator. Nokia has been building TD-SCDMA feature phones for several years, so it has the expertise to solve the hardware problems. Hopefully its close relationship with Microsoft will ensure a smooth integration of these radios with the Windows software as well. Once again though, timing is critical: 2012 sees the end of Apple’s exclusive 3-year deal with China Unicom and is also likely to see the launch of the iPhone 5, which just might support the 4G technology (TD-LTE) that China Mobile is currently building, although recent reports suggest that Apple and China Mobile have failed to agree a deal, as the operator wants a cut of Apple’s app revenues as well. So Nokia needs to exploit this opportunity quickly whilst also lining up its 4G Windows Mobile phones for the next round in the battle. And that means also pushing Microsoft for better 4G LTE support in the Windows Phone 7 operating system.

And what of the other major competitor in Nokia’s smartphone war, Android? Nokia is being squeezed on all sides here, from both lower cost local brand phones and huge global players like Samsung and HTC. With Android smartphones available for as little as 1,000 Yuan (around USD160) in China, it seems likely the cheapest Lumia model will come in at around twice that price. However both Microsoft and Nokia expect that cost to fall as cheaper and more powerful processing chipsets and cheap WVGA (typically 800 x 480) screens reduce the cost of a phone capable of supporting the complexity and power of Windows Phone 7. Add to that Nokia’s excellence in hardware engineering and phone design, and the relatively straightforward integration of Windows Phone 7 with the Windows desktop which is particularly prevalent across Asia, and Nokia may be in with a chance of arresting its recent steep decline in the smartphone sector. These new Windows phones could do particularly well with customers who have yet to make the jump to a smartphone (ie they don’t already have an investment in apps, loyalty and learning how to use a particular smartphone OS effectively). Our guess is that Nokia is hoping the Chinese market for these premium smartphone products won’t accelerate too quickly, leaving it behind.

Written by Robert Filkins, Managing Consultant, Coleago Consulting

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Vive la différence

August 3, 2011

The French telecoms regulator ARCEP announced the terms of the country’s 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum auction process in June. There are several noticeable features of the process: firstly the bands are being sold off sequentially with the 2.6GHz spectrum being auctioned in September and the 800MHz in December; secondly the auction is a first price sealed bid format, which is rather uncommon these days given the potential drawbacks with this format; and thirdly the reserve prices have been set at a very high level which is consistent with the worrying trend we have seen in other countries lately.

Since the auctions are sequential there is what game theorists call exposure risk which is due to the complimentary nature of 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum – i.e. a risk of overpaying for 2.6GHz spectrum as their bid price is based on an assumption they also win 800MHz and then fail to do so. In other words, should they bid on the 2.6GHz spectrum assuming no synergies with the 800MHz band and then risk not getting their desired allocation at 2.6GHz?

Given the fact that the format to be used in each stage is a single round first price sealed bid auction with no opportunity for price discovery, there is inherently a risk to significantly overpay – the so called “winner’s curse”. Equally there is a potential “loser’s curse” where a bidder might narrowly miss out on a spectrum block it might have been prepared to pay more for. With such a format, a bidder needs to study its own and competitors’ likely valuations as well as bidding intentions carefully to ensure successful participation and avoid embarrassing outcomes.

As we have seen in other European countries, which have announced forthcoming spectrum auctions (see our recent blog post on the Greek auction for example), the regulator is setting the reserve prices at a very high level in order to guarantee a high minimum revenue – in this case €2.5bn. If we compare the reserve prices set for the auction held in Germany in 2010 for example, it is striking that on a €/MHz/POP basis the French reserve prices have been set at 100x and 25x for the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands respectively (although note the format used in Germany was multi-round). Although high reserve prices do discourage frivolous participation they also undoubtedly favour the bidders with deeper pockets and it could be argued that if the regulator really believed in market forces (since they are holding an auction) then they should set a low reserve and let the market decide.

Scott McKenzie, Director Coleago Consulting

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UK to open extra mobile spectrum

October 25, 2010

The UK used to be at the forefront of mobile communications deployment. The announcement by Chancellor George Osborne that 2.6 GHz spectrum and digital dividend spectrum will be auctioned in 2011 or 2012, now puts the UK well behind Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and other European countries in terms of mobile technology deployment. UK mobile users will have to wait for LTE for another 2 years whereas commercial services are already in operation elsewhere.

However, from the operators’ perspective this is not bad news. Capital expenditure for the acquisition of spectrum at auction and the subsequent deployment is also delayed. It is likely that mobile broadband demand will remain strong and existing capacity would not be sufficient. Operators may be able to increase mobile broadband prices which would help to improve not only UK mobile industry EBITDA margins – which are among the lowest in Europe – but also increase free cash flow. This should delight shareholders.

As regards auction design, the fact that the announcement was made by the Chancellor who is primarily concerned with raising revenue for the government, must be worrying for operators. It is likely that the auction will be designed to maximise revenue.

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Canada preparing for spectrum auction

October 20, 2010

The regulatory authorities of Canada have recently announced provisional plans to release additional spectrum in the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands. The most recent spectrum auction took place in 2008 when the release of AWS spectrum. The auction resulted in a dramatic change to the competitive landscape with new regional and national players entering thanks to the decision by the authorities to reserve some spectrum specifically for new entrants. The proposed auction for 2012 is likely to be less dramatic.

Recent auctions in Europe for 2.6GHz spectrum suggest that the 2.5GHz band will not attract high levels of bidding however the 700MHz band will be of much greater interest. This time around the auction of spectrum is unlikely to result in new market entry. However, the new entrants currently only hold spectrum above 1GHz and as radio signals at higher frequencies do not travel as far providing coverage is costly. This is particularly significant in Canada due to the sheer size of the country – only Russia is larger. The incumbents Rogers, Bell and Telus all hold spectrum at 850MHz and Industry Canada is likely to impose spectrum caps to ensure that the new entrants are able to gain access to sub 1GHz spectrum in order to improve their competitive positions. In the absence of caps the incumbents would almost certainly out bid the new entrants to maintain their monopoly of sub 1GHz spectrum. Any caps will increase competition amongst the incumbents as less spectrum will be available which will drive prices higher.

Industry Canada is correct to be concerned about the ability of some operators to pay – whilst Rogers recently reported a 20% increase in 2nd quarter free cash flow and both Bell and Telus enjoy positive cash generation the financial performance of 4th players in mature markets has not been impressive and the new entrants will be cash constrained, especially in the current financial climate. Easing the rules on foreign ownership would certainly increase the options for new entrants in relation to raising funds for any auction.

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Austrian 2.6GHz spectrum auction results show some consistency with previous auctions but the picture is still confusing

September 23, 2010

The Austrian regulator RTR concluded the auction of 140MHz of paired spectrum and 50MHz of unpaired spectrum raising proceeds of €39.5 million from the four incumbent operators Telkom, Hutchison, T-Mobile and Orange. The benchmark for the paired spectrum of approximately €0.04 is at a similar level to the results from the German auction which also saw the 4 incumbents secure spectrum but 4 times lower than the Danish auction, another market with 4 existing operators. Whilst relative levels of spectrum supply relative to operator demand is often a significant determinant of spectrum prices achieved at auction it is clearly not the full story.

Austria has one of the most competitive and developed mobile broadband markets in Europe and the need for capacity should have pushed prices higher. However, unusually the RTR attached roll-out requirements to the 2.6GHz band requiring 25% of the population to be provided with coverage with a downlink of 1 MBit/s and 256 KBit/s on the uplink by no later than December 2013. This represents an onerous requirement for operators as it will require them to deploy LTE sooner than perhaps they might have preferred. The coverage requirements will have depressed auction prices. Attaching coverage requirements to the 2.6GHz spectrum is unusual as coverage is usually addressed through lower frequency spectrum bands such as 900MHz and 800MHz as the propagation characteristics of the lower bands are more suited to providing coverage. The mix of strong demand and onerous roll-out conditions mean that the auction results provide little additional insight for regulators and operators who have yet to auction the spectrum.

The relative prices for paired and unpaired spectrum also remains confusing as Hutchison paid less in total for its paired and unpaired spectrum (a total of 65MHz) compared to T-Mobile which only acquired 40MHz of paired spectrum. This outcome is however more likely to be due to the algorithm (effectively a second price rule) used by the regulator to determine the final prices.
The use of second price rules, where the highest bidder wins but only has to pay the amount of the 2nd highest bidder, tends to result in more economically efficient allocations of spectrum but it can lead to interesting variations in price for similar lots. For example Telkom paid 20% more for the same amount of spectrum as Hutchison and T-Mobile paid 40% more on a €/MHz/Pop for its 40MHz of paired spectrum than Orange paid for its 20MHz and the difference is unlikely to be explained in full by differences in spectral efficiencies of LTE in wider bands
As countries such as Switzerland, Spain and the UK prepare to auction spectrum in the 2.6GHz band the Austrian auction provide some insight into the potential value of the spectrum but considerable uncertainty remains.

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