Regulator concludes 4G licensing evaluation; aiming for fourth operator

8 Mar 2012

The Telecommunications Office of the Slovak Republic (TU SR) has presented its evaluation of operators’ responses to its public consultation on the forthcoming tender for the allocation of 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz band frequencies. The Office is preparing the tender to promote the availability of broadband access networks, in line with Slovakia’s national broadband strategy. Public consultations on the 790MHz-862MHz ‘digital dividend’ band freed up by the analogue-to-digital TV switchover – including papers published in March 2009, May 2010 and May 2011 – concluded that frequency licences based on technological- and service-neutrality should be issued, suitable for 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband services, with an auction expected in the second quarter of 2012. In its evaluation published 5 March 2012 the TU SR issued conclusions on its most recent consultation entitled ’Preparation and implementation of a common selection procedure for allocation of frequency bands 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz’, for which operators submitted responses in December 2011-January 2012.

In its latest paper, the Slovak telecoms watchdog concludes that the market has room for a new mobile operator, and therefore the upcoming 4G tender will be designed to allow a new entrant to establish next-generation services nationwide, whilst preventing unfair accumulation of spectrum by any single operator. The TU SR asserts that existing frequencies held by Slovakia’s three mobile operators, Slovak Telekom (T-Mobile), Orange and Telefonica O2, are sufficient to develop services in the future regardless of the results of the 4G auction. It is intended that any new entrant via the auction should be issued with sufficient 800MHz/1800MHz spectrum to establish competitive national services, with the additional option of applying for 2.6GHz frequencies. Incentives for a prospective new national competitor will include substantial reductions in the standard rate of frequency charges up until 2014. The regulator decided that concession winners must launch services within six months of licensing, with provisional conditions stipulating population coverage of 25% within one year and 70% within two years. Licensees must provide population coverage of 98% by the end of 2017. In accordance with the national broadband strategy aim of universal 1Mbps access, the TU SR plans to set the minimum rate in broadband access services for downlink/uplink of 1Mbps/256kbps.

Allocation of the three frequency bands will be divided into at least two auction phases. In the digital dividend auction, 2×30MHz is on offer within the 790MHz-862MHz range, with the aim of licensing three operators with 2×10MHz allocations.

An individual spectrum cap in the 1800MHz band is applicable, of 30.4MHz (2×15.2MHz) – which all three existing cellcos already hold – therefore leaving the 1800MHz portion of the auction for a newcomer. There is a total of 38.8MHz (2×19.4MHz) of spare 1800MHz frequencies potentially available, but the regulator stated that it will offer a new entrant 2×15.2MHz to match the existing operators, in the interests of a fair market.

In the 2.6GHz band, licences for MMDS systems (local TV networks) using these frequencies expired on 31 December 2011, making them available for broadband access networks to provide electronic communications services such as LTE. On offer in the upcoming tender is 2×70MHz of FDD and 1×50MHz of TDD spectrum: 2500MHz-2570MHz paired with 2620MHz-2690MHz (FDD) and 2570MHz-2620MHz (TDD). The Office considers that a prospective 2.6GHz licensee would require at least 2×20MHz of spectrum. It adds that the TDD allocation should form a separate tender; applicants for TDD frequencies may also compete for FDD frequencies, with the aim of allocating neighbouring FDD and TDD frequency blocks to the same entity, to eliminate potential interference problems.