Ukraine’s largest cellco by subscribers, Kyivstar, is keeping its options open for a rollout of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband technology, including the usage of 1800MHz band frequencies held by integrated sister operation Beeline Ukraine (including Ukrainian Radio Systems [URS] and Golden Telecom Ukraine). Following an announcement last month by Kyivstar’s CEO Igor Litovchenko that the GSM operator had cancelled plans to give up any legacy spectrum owned by Beeline, this week Litovchenko elaborated on LTE strategy by telling the Russian newspaper Vedomosti that 1800MHz frequencies will be amongst those used by Kyivstar to press ahead with 4G deployment if 3G licences remain unavailable, and assuming that a new technology-neutral mobile spectrum usage framework becomes law as expected in the autumn.
In early April Kyivstar, part of the Russian Vimpelcom group, revealed its reversal of a previously announced plan to offload some of its GSM wireless frequencies acquired through its integration with sister company Beeline Ukraine, to give it the most potential options for LTE development. LTE could be introduced on existing GSM frequencies ‘in the 800MHz band’, Igor Litovchenko said at the time. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Vimpelcom’s integration of Kyivstar, Ukrainian Radio Systems (Beeline) and Golden Telecom Ukraine (also branded Beeline) did not carry any regulatory conditions such as relinquishing excess spectrum, despite the three units all holding GSM frequency licences, giving the Ukrainian group significantly more radio resources than domestic competitors. Ukraine’s cellcos have mooted a GSM spectrum refarming agreement to reorganise the lower bands between them for the purposes of rolling out UMTS-based 3G services, but the proposals have thus far not come to fruition. Newly privatised national PTO Ukrtelecom remains the country’s sole 2100MHz UMTS licensee, whilst GSM operator MTS Ukraine also provides CDMA-based 3G mobile data services, as do several former fixed-wireless telephony operators which have upgraded and expanded their 1xEV-DO networks to offer national mobility. A 2100MHz licence auction remains stalled, pending agreement between the communications authorities and the defence ministry, although there have been recent advancements in negotiations, raising the possibility of 3G licensing by the end of this year. In late-March Igor Litovchenko stated that if the 3G auction did not go ahead in 2011 Kyivstar would cancel plans to build a W-CDMA network and simply leapfrog the 3G evolution stage to concentrate on the development of 4G LTE – assuming a technology-neutral policy is adopted for the usage of currently held frequencies.