MegaFon and MTS to draw first blood in Moscow LTE battle?

23 Aug 2011

According to Vedomosti, the State Radio Frequency Commission (SRFC) is poised to give Russian cellcos Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) and MegaFon an advantage over their rivals in the race to build out wireless networks based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, because the two mobile operators already own LTE-suitable spectrum via their respective WiMAX subsidiaries. Wholly owned MegaFon subsidiary Synterra has offered WiMAX services to business users in Moscow, Krasnoyarsk, Ryazan, Kursk, the Chechen republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, Tambov and Samara since April 2006, whilst MTS affiliate Comstar UTS launched WiMAX services in the capital in 2009 after securing spectrum in the 2.5GHz – 2.7GHz range in 2007.

Vedomosti claims that it has obtained a draft document belonging to the SRFC in which the aforementioned process is fully outlined. The document was believed to have been prepared in association with the so-called ‘Big Three’ mobile operators –MTS, MegaFon and Vimpelcom – as well as national operator-turned-full service provider Rostelecom, which secured 38 licences comprising 30MHz of frequency in the 2.3GHz-2.4GHz band in March 2010; in January 2011 the foursome united to work on a initiative to convert pre-existing military spectrum for LTE use, which was duly submitted to the regulator in July 2011.

In Moscow, the higher-range frequencies currently utilised by Synterra and Comstar UTS – as well as those held by WiMAX-turned-LTE operator Yota (Scartel) and television providers Kosmos-TV (owned by Sistema) and Mostelecom (controlled by Rostelecom) – will be reallocated to the four wireless operators in question, in a spectrum tender tentatively scheduled for 1 December 2011. This means that MTS and MegaFon would effectively relinquish their WiMAX frequencies in the city and surrounding suburbs in exchange for alternative LTE-suitable frequencies. Additionally, higher-range frequencies — which are necessary to build an effective dual-band LTE network — will be available further down the line, following their conversion from military use. The SRFC is expected to officially announce its findings on 8 September.