Why is 700 MHz so important? The answer is simple: most people getting connected during the next couple of years live in rural areas, and this band’s technical characteristics to support better coverage of these wide open spaces.
The work to make the internet available to all is just starting. However, over 40 per cent of the population in the developing world will still lack internet access by the end of the decade. Changing this will be a huge challenge, given the high levels of poverty and, again, the large proportion of the population living in rural areas.
However, it is a challenge the industry will meet head on. Mobile operators, other ecosystem companies, governments and regulators all have a role to play in solving it.
More than 90 per cent of the 1 billion new mobile subscribers forecast by 2020 will come from developing markets, where coverage in rural areas is key. The 700 MHz band is perfectly suited for this situation.
The band can also help improve coverage in developed markets, particularly with good in-building reception. Unfortunately, access to the band is still far from universal, as there are more than 100 countries around the world where it hasn’t been assigned to mobile.
In Europe, France and Germany should be applauded for licensing 700 MHz well ahead of the European Commission’s 2020 deadline for releasing the spectrum. However, other countries are not taking the same forward-thinking approach and their delay sets Europe behind other developed regions in providing ubiquitous mobile broadband for its citizens.
Rolling out 700 MHz isn’t just about clearing the band by relocating broadcast television and other users, problematic as that can be. Making it available in a timely manner and setting fair prices are equally important steps. Regulators shouldn’t be short-sighted and only think of short-term financial gains. Exorbitant reserve prices – the lowest acceptable bid – can and have already resulted in failed auctions.
Rapid assignment of the 700 MHz band for mobile services is a very important step in bringing the many benefits of mobile broadband to everyone.
Regulators also need to remember that despite the importance of 700 MHz and other sub-1 GHz bands, these are part of bigger a picture. Networks will only be able to handle growing data volumes and offer great services if there is a mixture of bands that extend coverage and improve capacity available to operators.
Projections indicate that use of the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband will generate substantial economic benefits globally. As an example, in Brazil, it is anticipated that it will contribute an additional US$1.4 billion to the Brazilian GDP, create over 4,300 new job opportunities and generate additional tax revenues of $1.3 billion by 2020, according to a report from ATDI. If any country doesn’t move quickly to make the 700 MHz spectrum available to operators, then it is very likely that they will be unable to take advantage of these positive economic benefits, both from a consumer and a business point of view.