Germany Ends Frequency Auction, Preps Rural Broadband

Germany ended its mobile broadband spectrum auction on Thursday, and operators will now start rolling out mobile broadband, including rural services using the 800MHz band and LTE (Long-Term Evolution).

When users in rural areas -- some of whom live in so-called white spaces, and don't have access to broadband -- will be able to get mobile broadband will primarily depend on when USB modems arrive, according to a spokesman at Vodafone. But the operator is hoping to launch services by the end of the year, he said.

The 800MHz band's signal propagation requires less infrastructure to provide wide mobile coverage than high-frequency bands, meaning that mobile broadband can be provided in rural areas at lower cost, according to industry organization GSM Association. The band can also be used to offer better indoor coverage than existing 3G services in urban areas, according to Vodafone.

However, there are also drawbacks with the 800MHz band. Vodafone, O2 and Deutsche Telekom all have 20MHz of spectrum, but you need 40MHz that to get the maximum performance out of LTE. For that, the operators will use 2.6GHz, which was also auctioned off in Germany, but is mainly suitable for use in urban areas.

That operators have high hopes for the 800MHz band has been highlighted by the premiums they paid, compared to spectrum in the higher 2.6GHz band. The cheapest chunk of spectrum in the lower band was priced at €571 million (US$713 million), compared to about €17 million for a piece of spectrum in the higher band.

It is now important that other European countries follow in Germany's foot steps, according to a spokeswoman at Deutsche Telekom.

Before services can be launched in other countries, analog TV services have to be turned off, and the last countries are scheduled to do that by the end of 2012, according to the European Commission. So far, Belgium, Finland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Sweden have also stopped analog TV services, the Commission said earlier this month when it announced technical rules for mobile broadband in the 800MHz band.

In Europe's new Digital Agenda -- which was announced on Wednesday, and includes a five-year plan that will set the pace for telecommunications -- the Commission highlights the key role the 800MHz band will play to ensure broadband coverage in all areas. The Commission is now considering a proposal that will require member states to make the spectrum available, and include it in the forthcoming Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, which is likely to be presented in June or July.

Telecom equipment vendors and operators are pushing for that to happen. After the agenda was announced, the GSM Association underlined the need for a deadline in a statement. The sooner they know when spectrum will become available, the sooner they can start developing products and plan their networks, according to Sylvain Fabre, research director at Gartner's Carrier Network Infrastructure group.

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