M-Tel, CRC clash over LTE spectrum in 1800MHz band; M-Tel to invest BGN150m in networks in 2015

26 Feb 2015

Bulgarian wireless operator Mobiltel (M-Tel) has reportedly accused telecoms regulator the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) of failing to provide it with the requested spectrum for the launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in the 1800MHz band, domestic newspaper Capital reports. ‘The pace of development of the market is such that we believe it is necessary to invest in LTE in 2016’, M-Tel’s chief technical officer Horst Pertal said, adding: ‘For this to happen, however, we need appropriate frequencies. The regulator however behaves strangely – the frequencies are free, we have the money for them, and we can pay for them immediately, and CRC just does not want to provide them … We are at an impasse in our talks with CRC on this issue.’

TeleGeography notes that the current distribution of spectrum in the 1800MHz band is as follows: M-Tel (2×10MHz), Telenor (formerly GloBul, 2×10MHz), Max (2×10MHz), 4G Com (2×8MHz) and Bulsatcom (2×5MHz). M-Tel and Telenor have already requested additional 2×10MHz each from the regulator in order to launch LTE services, while both Max and Bulsatcom are said to be allegedly looking for 2×5MHz of extra spectrum.

As previously noted by CommsUpdate, in October 2014 the CRC opened a public consultation with regards to the potential use of available spectrum in the 1800MHz band, with Decision No.645, dated 23 September 2014. The decision was prompted by ‘growing interest’ in the available resources in the 1710MHz-1785MHz and 1805MHz-1880MHz frequency bands. The regulator disclosed that 5MHz of spectrum in the sought-after band would be reserved for new entrant Bulsatcom, while the remaining free spectrum – understood to be 2×13.4MHz – would have to be allocated via an auction. However, M-Tel claimed that under the current telecoms legislation, the authority is obliged to provide the requested frequencies for a fee, and has initiated legal proceedings. ‘We have taken the case to court and hope it rules in our favour’, Horst Pertal said.

Meanwhile, the CTO disclosed that the operator is planning to invest more than BGN150 million (USD87 million) in the development and optimisation of its network in 2015, on the back of BGN1.7 billion ploughed into its infrastructure in the period 2005-2014. ‘The company is working to complete the modernisation of its mobile network until early April’, Mr Horst said, highlighting the fact that his company has finalised the Single radio access network (single RAN) upgrade of its 3G network in January and is now upgrading the 2G infrastucture. Further, M-Tel is in the process of selecting a supplier of equipment for network virtualisation, a technology which M-Tel trialled back in June 2014. In regards to fixed infrastructure, the telco’s backbone infrastructure now spans 2,000km of fibre-optic cabling, while over one million households in Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Sliven, Bourgas, Varna, Veliko Turnovo and Ruse are covered by fibre-based networks. M-Tel plans to extend the coverage to 100,000 additional households in 2015.