If there is anything that is precious and scarce in the wireless telecom industry; it’s spectrum. All mobile network providers lease this frequency spectrum from the industry regulator UCC on an annual basis in order to provide voice and data services to their subscribers. In order to align with international standards, UCC spent better part of 2014 reviewing the 2.5- 2.6 GHz band, which is currently occupied by a commingle of both 4G-LTE and WiMAX providers. In order to realize the benefits of using this band and facilitate roll out of wireless infrastructure for provision of high speed data services, our sources confirm that UCC together with the mobile operators are in the process of reaffirming the 2.6 GHz band to be used for only 4G-LTE broadband technology. This means that most carriers will highly consider decommissioning their WiMAX networks in this band.
“WiMAX networks to be decommissioned”
Africa, Middle East & Europe are located in the ITU (International Telecommication Union) region 2, and the LTE technology is designated to operate on the following frequency bands: 800 MHz, 1,800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. Currently, Orange/Africell and Smile communications Uganda operate their 4G-LTE networks on the 800 MHz band while MTN and Vodafone Uganda are operating in the much contested 2.6GHz band. This is the preferred band for deployment in congested areas like cities where data traffic is high.
The status quo is such that, UTL, Forris, Airtel and Tangerine have no LTE spectrum allocation but we’ve been reliably informed that most operators have reportedly applied for the 2.6 GHz LTE spectrum from the regular.
ITU 2G, 3G and 4G-LTE spectrum recommendations per region
The new band plan provides for allocations of 2×10 MHz FDD and 20/30 MHz TDD, and our sources have confirmed that, the initial plan is to have all carriers allocated at least 10MHz in LTE -FDD which include, MTN, UTL, Airtel, Orange, Smile and Forris. This move will ensure that, smaller carriers are not pushed to the wall by the big ones such that everyone has fair share of the spectrum. Only Vodafone (Afrimax) and Tangerine have been allocated 30MHz and 20 MHz respectively since they will be operating in an LTE mode known as TDD. With this new proposal, we will see Uganda’s biggest telecom, MTN Uganda change LTE technology mode from TDD to FDD to align themselves more with the standard of the 3G and 2G technology.
But what does this mean for the mobile data subscribers in Uganda?
For this reaffirming to succeed, Operators will obviously have bilateral and multilateral consultations with other operators especially those with networks adjacent to their new allocations, to facilitate the migrations from the current to the new band plan. This new band plan is expected to take effect January 2015. It’s clear a lot of negotiations have to be done between operator before this reaffirming exercise is fully complete.
If all goes as planned, we will see all mobile operators in Uganda with 4G -LTE networks as they battle to become Uganda’s number one data provider. But what does this mean for the mobile data subscribers in Uganda? Its simply translates to more mobile network options, ability to access fast data speeds with predictively affordable data plans.