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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

UMTS at 900MHz becoming a reality

With all the recent focus on the US 700MHz auctions, and the ongoing 2.5/2.6GHz band auctions, it is worth catching up with another less glamorous trend in spectrum (OK, I'll admit that radio frequencies aren't that glamorous to begin with, but you'll get the point).

According to the GSA there are now 3 active UMTS900 networks, and 7 capable devices. That's Elisa in both Finland and Estonia, and now also AIS in Thailand. Various other operators have announced intentions to roll out the technology, and there are ongoing consultations in many parts of Europe.

(The UK's is mired in dispute - unsurprising with 2 incumbent GSM900 licence holders and 3 more large 1800/2100 operators each hoping to get a slice. It's a bit of a nightmare for the industry to sort out.... and made even more complex because of T-Mobile's reported threatened legal action to delay the 2.6GHz auction until it's resolved).

Interestingly, some consulting work I did about a year ago basically suggested that most handset manufacturers and their silicon/RF suppliers thought that UMTS900 was an inevitable "done deal", while only few had progressed that far on UMTS2600/LTE2600.

UMTS900 is ideal for operators needing to meet 3G coverage obligations, and it should also get much better indoor penetration than 2.1GHz. Currently announced devices with UMTS900 support include Nokia 6121 and N96, the HTC Diamond and assorted others. Interestingly, it seems to be being supported in quite a lot of phones first rather than just modems/dongles - reflecting its suitability for coverage rather than capacity.

It will also be very interesting to see whether operators deploying UMTS900 are as aggressive on alternative options like WiFI dual-mode and femtocells for enhancing indoor coverage.


alex said...

Sure UMTS 900 is initially for 3G coverage... but once UMTS 2100 capacity is filling up (from increasing data usage) and device penetration up, isn't UMTS 900 the #1 easy route to indoor capacity?

Why would an UMTS 900 operator go through all the extra trouble with femto cells when 3G indoor coverage & capacity can be achieved from existing outdoor sites?

And why wouldn't one-by-one all GSM countries go this route?

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks Alex

UMTS900 may be able to provide good indoor coverage for relatively small numbers of users. This could reduce the demand for femtos used by a small % of users purely to improve in-building signal.

How it will not be able to cope with dense urban areas or heavy concentrations of users because although it has good penetration, the band (and existing cell sites) do not have that much *capacity*

There is an important difference between *indoor coverage* and *indoor capacity*.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that many people don't realize what a big deal UMTS 900 really is. UMTS 2100 provides cell site range of up to 20KM, 2G 900 GSM provides up to 35KM limited by timing issues fitting into your 'timeslot' due to it being TDMA base.

But 900 UMTS provides up to 90KM range because being CDMA it is not limited by 900 GSM's timing issues. So it provides 2-3 times the distance of 2G at the same frequency!

It was a very major mistake by the European standards bodies who established 3G not to adequately promote it at a lower frequency. They also messed up with the power & battery requirements for 3G devices but that's another story.


John said...

Vodafone New Zealand has a big 900mhz UMTS/HSPA deployment on now with many sites live to customers. I am posting this connected to the network now in Rural New Zeland.