21 Mar 2012
Qatar’s telecoms regulator The Supreme Council for ICT (ictQATAR) has issued its Radio Spectrum Policy, under a remit to provide a transparent, non-discriminatory and predictable approach to wireless spectrum management. Alongside frequency allocation components, the policy details licensing requirements, spectrum fees and billing, and monitoring and policy enforcement stipulations, while it also proposes creating the Qatar National Spectrum Coordination Committee (QNSCC) to assist in the management of spectrum by providing a forum for regular feedback from current and potential frequency users. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that in 2010 ictQATAR launched an ongoing review of market competition, with the ultimate aim of deciding whether to award further competitors to duopoly Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and Vodafone Qatar, but a final decision is pending on allowing additional service providers, which could include mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).
One area that the policy addresses is how to reallocate unused spectrum, including the 800MHz band currently used for analogue television, for new uses including 4G mobile services. The policy states that Qatar requires an analogue-to-digital TV switchover plan including coordinating the future use of the UHF band with neighbouring countries in the Gulf region. To this purpose ictQATAR will work with national broadcaster Qatar Media Corporation (QMC, owner of the Al Jazeera network) to develop technical and policy proposals for digital switchover, through the establishment of a Switchover Working Group, and ictQATAR will instigate action as soon as possible to enable the early clearance of analogue TV services from the 800MHz band. According to GlobalComms, Qtel carried out 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband tests in Qatar in summer 2011 using 800MHz test frequencies, and in October it announced plans to deploy a network of 900 LTE base stations. Meanwhile, in December 2010 Vodafone Qatar and Alcatel-Lucent carried out demos of LTE technology in the 800MHz band in collaboration with ictQATAR, but commercial LTE rollouts must be implemented in both cellcos’ existing frequency bands pending the announcement of any further spectrum auctions. The new policy does not give any timetable for 4G licensing.
Elaborating on the digital switchover strategy, the policy states that the current management of spectrum assignments for broadcasting is legally the responsibility of ictQATAR, but that, at a practical level, QMC largely self-manages the broadcast bands. QMC’s current spectrum management activities will be undertaken by ictQATAR going forward, ‘as this is consistent with the law and removes any potential conflict of interest that arises from QMC managing frequency ranges its competitors would like to access.’ The regulator says the overall aims of its new policy include ‘taking the least intrusive interventions consistent with achieving public policy objectives and efficient spectrum use.’