LTE roaming 'not an issue' in APAC

Intra-region long-term evolution roaming not as problematic as international roaming due to less spectrum fragmentation, says analyst.

SINGAPORE--Fragmentation of long-term evolution (LTE) spectrum will impact roaming among Asia-Pacific countries less than it would worldwide roaming, said an industry observer.

During his presentation at LTE Asia 2011, Charles Moon, principal analyst for the Asia-Pacific region at Informa Telecoms and Media, said LTE roaming among Asia-Pacific countries will "probably not be an issue" because most countries have overlaps in LTE spectrum in the 700MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz bands.

However, spectrum fragmentation could hinder global roaming of LTE, he said, adding that there is currently a lack of clarity surrounding the issue.

That said, Singapore-based Moon believes that the 2100MHz band has the potential to be adopted as a standard for LTE spectrum. This is due to support by Japanese operators, he said, adding that there is also interest in this spectrum from Southeast Asian countries.

However, Singapore-based mobile operator StarHub sees "tremendous opportunity" for adoption of LTE in the 1800MHz range. Peter Cook, vice president of mobile network engineering at StarHub said 351 operators in 148 countries have licenses to use the spectrum.

The company has opted to devote parts of its 2G 1800MHz band for its LTE network trials, he added.

By refarming its 1800MHz spectrum, StarHub was able to reuse its existing infrastructure by upgrading its base station--a "straightforward" exercise--to support both 2G and LTE, said Cook.

According to Cook, StarHub trialed both 1800MHz and 2600MHz spectrum and found that the lower frequency spectrum was able to extend much farther and provided better in-door coverage.

He added that the company also saw cost savings as there was no need to purchase new spectrum.

Exponential data growth, driven by mobile devices and video, was the reason StarHub turned to LTE. However, Cook noted that reduction in network cost was another driver in its adoption of LTE.

Cook said measured by per-bit cost, the LTE network was able to save 20 percent of its original HSPA (High-speed packet access) network.

He added that StarHub will commercialize its LTE offerings in the fourth-quarter of 2011.

Rival operator M1 is currently the only Singapore operator offering LTE. Its coverage is focused on the city-state's commercial area.

Using 3G adoption as a lesson, Cook said the company has decided to wait for LTE devices to launch instead of forging ahead with a new network.

Hong Kong-based mobile operator CSL took a different route. The company launched out its LTE service to commercial customers in July 2010 with a full rollout to all customers last month.

Mark Liversidge, CSL's chief marketing officer, said by being the first to market LTE services, CSL gained a "time-based advantage" over its competitors in capturing the mindshare of customers in Hong Kong.

The company is aggressively moving its customers to its LTE network. Liversidge said. Since August, CSL has withdrawn its 3G packages off the market and currently only offers LTE for new sign-ups.

CSL also offers its customers subsidies for LTE handsets, which are more expensive than 3G devices. Liversidge noted that in the long run it would be profitable for CSL because the cost of serving LTE customers is lower than 3G.

Liversidge, however, lamented that global mobile phonemakers are not grabbing the LTE opportunity. He gathered from briefings with handset vendors that the 4G technology is not a priority for them.

When it comes to delivery of LTE devices, vendors often miss their deadlines, he pointed out.

Liversidge urged phonemakers not to wait for economies of scale before releasing LTE handsets for the mass market. Instead, they should grab the opportunity to tap sophisticated networks that are already in commercial use, such as CSL's, he said.


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