Telecoms split on band proposal

CONVOLUTED::As the government weighs four MOTC proposals on the usage of the 2.6GHz band, not many carriers seemed optimistic that a sound policy would be chosen

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Apr 01, 2014 - Page 4

A Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) proposal to refarm the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band has drawn mixed reactions from the nation’s telecoms, with Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) service operators objecting to the proposal because it would prevent them from merging with one another.

The 2.6GHz frequency band refers to the bandwidth from 2.5GHz to 2.690GHz and is the second-most utilized bandwidth in the world, surpassed only by the 1.8GHz band.

In Taiwan, the 2.6GHz band is used mainly by WiMAX service operators, which only use it at a bandwidth of 90 megahertz (MHz).

Many industry observers think this is inefficient and have called for the frequency band to be used more productively, but while Tatung Infocomm’s operational license expires this year, those of five other operators — Global Mobile, Far Eastone Telecommunications (FET), VMAX, VeeTime and First International Telecom Corp — will not expire until next year or 2016.

A VMAX representative said that WiMax operators are entitled to file for mergers based on Article 15 of Telecommunications Act (電信法).

If the National Communications Commission wants to change this, it needs to draft a transitional clause to protect operators’ interests, the representative said.

The commission yesterday said that it will not approve the mergers of WiMAX operators even if such bids cite the act.

“The Executive Yuan has its policy on how the country should use the radio spectrum and the commission has the authority to approve or deny such mergers,” said Wang De-wei (王德威), director of the commission’s planning division.

“The policy states that WiMAX service providers’ licenses could be extended for another 10 years after a merger of two such entities. We do not want other providers who have acquired bandwidth licenses to have to wait that long before they can use it,” Wang said.

The 4G service operators that use long-term evolution (LTE) technology — including Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, FET, Asia-Pacific Telecom, Ambit Microsystems Corp and Taiwan Star — obtained the bandwidths in 700MHz, 900MHz and 1.8GHz through an auction last year. Some are scheduled to launch their 4G services this year.

In a presentation, the ministry proposed four options to resolve the issues, one of which was dividing the band into three parts so that the two variants of LTE technology — frequency division duplexing (FDD) and time division duplexing (TDD) — can coexist simultaneously in the 2.6GHz radio band. This would be achieved by sandwiching the TDD band between two FDD bands.

This practice is seen primarily in European countries, while the US, Japan and China use the 2.6GHz band exclusively for the TDD-LTE technology, which is another one of the options proposed by the ministry.

Should the government allow the coexistence of FDD and TDD technologies in the frequency band, as appears to be the most likely outcome, the ministry said that 10MHz of guard bands will be required to avoid interference between the two systems.

Another consideration is that part of the FDD band could be susceptible to interference from a Japanese satellite system. Under these circumstances, only 140MHz in the band would be available, the ministry said.

If the government chooses to follow the US, Japan and China in this regard, it risks making Taiwan’s system incompatible with that used Europe. Conversely, the 2.6GHz band would potentially be used more efficiently because there is no need for buffer zones between the two different technologies.

Following the ministry and commission’s announcements, a Tatung InfoComm representative said the plight facing the nation’s WiMax operators is the result of the government’s inconsistent policy regarding the use of radio bands.

Instead of adopting the model used in Europe, Taiwan should opt for an all-TDD model instead, given the fast growth in users of this technology due to the increase in cellphone penetration rates, he said.

Global Mobile chairman Rosemary Ho (何薇玲) said that if it focuses too heavily on FDD development, Taiwan would be the only country in the world to do so, which would be a problem when it moves to develop a 5G services network.

“The commission needs to consider how it wants to relocate current band users to a different frequency. So far, we have seen neither complementary measures nor any compensation plan for band users,” Ho said.

“Also, while 3G operators redeemed their costs after eight years, we have to do it within six years, during which we have invested heavily in construction of infrastructure. Overseas investors will be intimidated by this sudden policy shift and new telecoms will not survive,” Ho said, adding that she hopes the government will not justify such a change because it needs to generate NT$30 billion (US$984 billion) for the state coffers.