3G licence auction delay has knock-on effect for 4G process

9 Aug 2012

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has hinted that the upcoming 2100MHz 3G mobile licence auction – originally scheduled for September but delayed due to the belated settlement of 2G licence renewals – may not happen until next year. ‘The current situation suggests that the 3G auction would not be possible this year,’ a regulatory official was quoted as saying by local journal The Daily Star. As previously reported in CommsUpdate, the reissuing of 2G licences to GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi and CityCell – which was supposed to occur last November – was finally done on 7 August after protracted legal arguments over fees. The four mobile operators had indicated that they were not prepared to bid for a 3G licence until they had secured the 2G concessions. An original schedule proposed a final 3G bidder list to be published on 19 July ahead of an auction on 3 September, but revised guidelines released in late July set a deadline of 22 August for comments on the 3G auctioning process, with the aim of issuing 3G licences ‘by the end of 2012’; this schedule also now appears to be in doubt. Meanwhile, the BTRC has reportedly refused GrameenPhone a permit to carry out 3G trials; the sole company currently permitted to launch 2100MHz UMTS services in the country is state-owned Teletalk, which is preparing to introduce the service next month, and will not need to compete for its 3G licence in the upcoming auction. The telecoms watchdog in July approved Teletalk’s first 3G user package, under the name ‘Gravity’.

The regulator this week also warned that a 3G auction postponement would have a knock-on delay effect on subsequent 4G licensing. The BTRC noted that it is formulating plans to allocate the 700MHz frequency band for 4G mobile services such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) as per the guidelines of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). As quoted by The Star, BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed said: ‘We want to make the most out of the in-demand 700MHz spectrum.’ However, the current usage of the band requires reallocation to make the band suitable for 4G licensing. The BTRC previously allocated 2×6MHz in the 700MHz band to ISP AlwaysOn Network Bangladesh in July 2006, free of charge, but the location of the block held by AlwaysOn would impede the functionality of the rest of the band, and Ahmed said that options are being studied regarding what action to take, including issuing AlwaysOn with a 2×5MHz block in ‘the corner of the band’ instead.

700MHz/800MHz frequencies – which have become available for cellular usage in countries across the world via the switchover from analogue TV to digital variants – facilitate the deployment of mobile broadband coverage across wider areas compared to higher bands. According to the BTRC’s 3G licensing guidelines, the 2100MHz licences to be auctioned will also permit the launching of 4G services.

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