Ofcom has recently announced that the UK’s long awaited 4G mobile broadband spectrum auction will be delayed until early 2013. Despite the fact that the UK and Europe are often viewed as falling behind other markets in terms of 4G LTE; this regulatory delay does not suggest a lack of commitment amongst mobile operators to invest in the deployment of the standard. The conditions laid out by Ofcom have also guaranteed that indoor LTE coverage will have a significant role to play in the rollout of LTE services in 2013.
There remains, however, a persistently high level of operator investment in the type of technology that will enable LTE coverage indoors. This is unsurprising when you consider that the 800 MHz spectrum, that will be made available from Ofcom, carries an obligation to deliver mobile broadband reception indoors to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017. The strong investment in wireless in-building solutions reaffirms an on-going commitment to LTE, on behalf of mobile operators. When coupled with the large scale investment in outdoor ‘macro networks’ that the industry has recently witnessed, it becomes clear that operators are gearing up for the active deployment of LTE following the spectrum auction in early 2013.
The continued proliferation of smartphone technology has led to a huge increase in mobile data usage; with some 80 per cent of traffic now emanating from within buildings, including shopping malls, office blocks and sports stadia. In light of the continued increase in mobile data usage, and the Ofcom ruling, operators must now ensure that the latest mobile broadband standard is available to the many subscribers who are now accessing data services within buildings. Today, many buildings are constructed from materials that reflect RF (radio frequency) signals; meaning that the only way to ensure seamless coverage for users is to install some form of in-building coverage system.
Now that the majority of mobile traffic is emanating from indoors, the operators have become acutely aware of the need to provide comprehensive in-building coverage. This means that more and more operators are now building their networks from the ‘inside out’ rather than the ‘outside in’, which represents a significant shift in mind-set from a few years ago. Europe may be behind other markets, such as the U.S., in terms of commercial LTE deployments, but that hasn’t prevented the operators from adopting new technologies to propagate mobile phone signals into a building. Both the 800 MHz and 2600MHz bands, released by Ofcom, will provide a well needed increase in spectrum for the operators to support new 4G services. However in-building coverage systems typically need to support multiple frequency bands and wireless technologies, including 2G and 3G services. Indeed, some existing frequency bands are being ‘re-farmed’ by the operators to provide further support for 3G and 4G services. Axell is already deploying multiband, multi-technology systems for the mobile operators and this can only seek to reiterate their firm commitment to the eventual roll out of 4G services.
In addition to the nation-wide commitment to deliver mobile phone reception indoors, Ofcom has extended the same proviso to operators, ordering the delivery of an equal standard of indoor service to at least 95 per cent of the population, for each country within the UK.