Reality Check: 4G in the 2014 FIFA World Cup

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to our Reality Check column. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries and veterans in the mobile industry to give their insights into the marketplace.

The Brazilian telecommunications market promises to be one of the most important things for the FIFA’s 2014 World Cup, because it brings strong national feelings as soccer is the Brazilian sport by nature, and the Brazilian government is committed in implementing 4G for the World Cup. But what are the real challenges for Brazilian service providers to implement 4G in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup?

The “real 4G technology” is defined by the International Telecommunications Union on ITU-R M.1645 recommendation and its key characteristics are data rates of 100 megabits per second for high mobility users (speeds from 60 kilometers per hour to 250 kmph) and 1 gigabit per second for low mobility or fixed users. It’s important to note that by October 2010, the ITU had approved only two radio interfaces as “real 4G,” one based on LTE 3GPP, named LTE-Advanced and the other based on WiMAX also known as WirelessMAN-Advanced2.

In fact, the “real 4G” is going to take more time to be up and running than Brazil needs and it’s necessary to think about intermediate solutions with LTE and HSPA+. Considering what is standardized today, 3GPP Release 10 provides for LTE at about 326 Mbps downlink in a 20 megahertz channel and for HSPA+ at 168 Mbps downlink in a 20 megahertz channel. For a 5 megahertz channel, LTE performance is comparable to HSPA+ reaching 42 Mbps, half of the minimum requirement for 4G speed.

Although the government has committed to 4G with the 2.5 GHz auction, many carriers are not willing to invest so soon in license acquisition, trying to postpone the scheduled April 2012 spectrum auction. Without the 2.5 GHz band, Brazilian carriers will face an enormous challenge.

According to Brazilian telecom regulator Anatel’s resolution 454/2006, there is a spectrum limitation of 80 megahertz (40 x 40) bandwidth (or 85 megahertz considering TDD in the 1900 MHz band). This bound is only surpassed taking into account an extra amount of 60 megahertz in the 2.5 GHz band. If LTE or HSPA+ are to reach speeds beyond 300 Mbps they need 40 megahertz of total spectrum (20 x 20). Most service providers will not be able to do 4G on the FIFA’s 2014 World Cup using existing bands.

Four of five Brazilian service providers (Vivo, Claro and TIM and Oi) have similar networks with analogous spectrum limitations and will face a huge difficulty to free up 40 megahertz (20 x 20) of spectrum in their existing frequency bands in order to implement “real 4G”. The main reason is because these carriers are already serving almost 100% of the Brazilian population and there will be a lot of visitors in their networks in this period.

It’s important to remember that the Caribbean and Latin America have 564 million GSM and 3G subscribers in at the end of the second quarter, according to 4G Americas. Any campaign to bring these roamers’ traffic could collapse their networks. Cities of Natal, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador do not have any available frequencies and would be the most impacted cities. All these service provides own licenses in frequencies below 1.8 GHz, a tremendous differentiation to implement road coverage. In order to bring the “real 4G” to their network users, it would be very advisable to acquire extra spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

Nextel, the No. 5 carrier in the Brazilian market, has a special challenge. As the last entrant to launch 3G services, the carrier has the advantages and disadvantages of this situation. Nextel has to move fast to implement both 3.5G and 4G practically together to meet Brazil’s World Cup 4G coverage goals. Besides the benefits of the most innovative network, higher data speeds, all-IP and soft migration to 4G capabilities, there are spectrum constraints: as a result of the last Brazilian spectrum auction, Nextel was granted 20 megahertz (10 x 10) in the 2.1 GHz H Band almost nationwide, and 20 megahertz (10 x 10) in the 1.8 GHz M Band.

Nextel has 40 megahertz (20 x 20) in some World Cup cities: Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Natal, Belo Horizonte and Manaus. Moreover, the high frequencies Nextel possesses could be an obstacle, since the number of sites to provide rural coverage tends to be very elevated, raising network costs. One suggestion is to use current iDEN frequency bands, taking into consideration LTE is the only 3GPP family standard that can be implemented in the 806-824 MHz/851-869 MHz range, remarking it would be necessary to change current Brazilian regulation to introduce LTE in these frequencies. For Nextel, the expansion in the 2.5 GHz would still be recommended to implement true 4G services.

Maria Luiza Kunert is a Brazilian telecommunications executive with almost 20 years in the Wireless Market. Graduated in electronics engineer, Maria has worked for network infrastructure vendors such as Ericsson and NEC, and for service providers such as Vivo. Since 2009, she works as regulation advisor for Anatel, the Brazilian Telecommunications Government Agency.

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