There’s still no guarantee when LTE will be available on all networks, but the UK is one step closer to getting ubiquitous “4G” data. The first round of the auction has now closed and we now know what the allocation is.
Spectrum: For those who haven’t been following with avid fascination, the UK spectrum originally allocated to LTE split into two ranges, 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum. Each allocation is broken up into 5Mhz chunks of bandwidth, so you can have 5, 10, 15, etc worth.
Loosely speaking, the 800MHz spectrum is better for getting expanded coverage – the signal can travel further so you can reach a larger area per base station. Great if you have fewer people over a large location. The 2.6GHz band is better in cities as it can transmit through buildings better and you can load more capacity (it’s a frequency thing, I’m informed), so ideally you want a mix of both.
Now we know who has how much bandwidth, the next stage will be to bid on what specific bands the operators actually receive. In the meantime, we should be able to infer a little from the current information we have.
EE went for a pair of 5MHz bands of the 800MHz because they’re already ok with rural areas, but they went heavy on 2.6GHz with 2 x 35MHz bands. Anyone who has been a long-time user of the original one2one or Orange 1800MHz networks know in-building coverage was always a bit of an issue. The big blocks of 2.6Ghz will hopefully eradicate that being an issue for EE LTE users.
Three got the same amount as EE for the 800MHz block. 2 x 5MHz blocks of 800MHz spectrum which gives them range to fill out any possible gaps in coverage. Reading between the lines, they already have the 2100MHZ spectrum, but they also have the block of 1800MHz spectrum from EE which is coming to them later on this year.
O2 focused on the 800MHz side as well, with 2 x 10MHz blocks, but the flip side of that is that they have to provide 98% coverage (under the coverage obligation – more underneath). That took ages for the UK on 2G because the last 5% of the population lives in low density locations and therefore it really isn’t cost effective for telco’s to put up looooaaaaads of infrastructure for very few people. it will always end up costing them, what with power, maintenance etc.
Vodafone got a lot of spectrum as well, with 2 x 10 MHz at 800 MHz, 2 x 20 MHZ at 2.6GH\, and another healthy slice of 1 x 25 MHz at 2.6 GHz. That unpaired slice could be used for any number of things, but there’s no reason that it couldn’t be used for expanded backhaul purposes, since even with the new faster speeds, we’ll still want to download way more than we’ll ever upload.
What BT say they’re going to do and what they intend to do may be two different things: sure they can provide backhaul and last mile stuff, but if there’s enough dark fibre, there’s nothing stopping them from being an MVNO provider in their own right.