Hidden Threat to 4G: Spectrum Fragmentation

Posted by at 1:12 pm on October 30, 2010

Regulators pondering how to carve out spectrum to support 4G networks are missing the forest for the trees. While focusing on finding spectrum large enough to support 4G’s higher speeds and innovative applications, they are failing to harmonize their choices across geographies, resulting in worldwide spectrum fragmentation. And that means tomorrow’s 4G handsets may not work from country to country, stifling user adoption and curtailing roaming-”and revenue.

Those are the findings from Yankee Group’s “4G Spectrum Fragmentation-”Killing the Golden (Roaming) Goose?”  The report’s global spectrum survey finds:

  • Europe gets it mostly right. Europe is taking a harmonized approach to both spectrum and technology, with key new networks rolling out in Sweden, Norway and Germany all using consistent spectrum bands.
  • The U.S. goes it alone. By allowing carriers to take spectrum in advance of the rest of the world and fragmenting its 700 MHz digital dividend, the U.S. is ending up out of step with not just Mexico but also Canada.
  • Asia is slow to decide. Across the region, regulators have moved slowly to clear existing occupants from key spectrum. Plus, Japan-”like the U.S.-”continues to allocate spectrum with little regard for international harmonization.

“If these trends continue, vendors will not be able to make devices that work everywhere and consumers will not easily roam across networks when traveling to different countries,” said  Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst at Yankee Group and author of the report. “This greatly threatens 4G’s success, since roaming revenue will fall and consumers will seek alternatives, like Wi-Fi.”

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