|Tags||5G, 700 MHz, Asia, China, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, India, Indonesia|
China appears to be getting closer to releasing the 700 MHz band for mobile use.
The benefits of the band for mobile broadband, including rural and in-building coverage, are well documented. Chinese support, as well as making 700 MHz available domestically, would enable neighbouring Hong Kong and Macau to move ahead with assigning it. There could also be a positive ripple in other countries.
Asia has been slower than some other regions to assign 700 MHz. In many countries across the region, there are analogue broadcasters who are reluctant to quit the band. This is also the case in China. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) supports allocating the 700 MHz band to the mobile industry, but the country’s national TV broadcaster, which currently controls it, is regulated separately by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
A number of observers have told Policy Tracker that any decision to reassign 700 MHz has to be made at a very senior level of the Communist Party. However, they also say the issue is moving ahead, although no specific timescale is in place.
It is thought that the TV broadcaster is being offered the 4.9-5 GHz band in exchange for giving up some of the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband. The broadcaster would then be in a position to enter the mobile market if it wanted to.
Last December, MIIT awarded various bands to the country’s three operators for 5G. China Mobile received the 2.6 GHz and 4.8-4.9 GHz bands, while rivals China Telecom and China Unicom received 3.4-3.5 GHz and 3.5-3.6 GHz respectively.
In 2017, MIIT specified 3.3-3.4 GHz, 3.4-3.6 GHz and 4.8-5 GHz as operating bands for 5G. As China Mobile has been awarded the 4.8-4.9 GHz band, 4.9-5 GHz should be free and could potentially be awarded to the country’s broadcaster in return for mobile operators gaining access to the 700 MHz band.
Other Asian markets, including India and Indonesia, the two next largest after China in terms of population, have yet to award 700 MHz.
At last month’s Fifth Annual Asia Pacific Spectrum Management Conference in Kuala Lumpur organised by Forum Global, UK Srivastava, principal adviser to Indian regulator Trai, said he was “hopeful” that the band would be awarded this year. Previously, more optimistic observers had hoped to see an auction in early 2019.
Denny Setiawan, director of spectrum policy and planning at Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, told the same event the country has plans to auction the band with the understanding that the winners will have to bear the costs of redeployment.
His presentation also noted that the country was awaiting the passage of a new broadcasting act before the auction can proceed.
A report published last year by Windsor Place Consulting in collaboration with mobile industry association the GSMA laid out some of the reasons for the deadlock in the Indonesian process, and how the regulator is attempting to unravel it. It also rounded up progress elsewhere in Asia.