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January 8, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 10:37am

Can UK mobile operators learn from France’s LTE spectrum sharing?

News: Technology being trialled in France could solve the spectrum crunch issues in the UK.

By Alexander Sword

As the UK prepares for another spectrum auction in the UK, France is seeing its first testing of Licensed Shared Access, a pioneering technology that will see spectrum being shared by operators.

In the trial, spectrum allocated to the French Ministry of Defence in the 2.3 – 2.4 GHz band will be shared using Ericsson’s radio access network.

Technology from RED Technologies, Ericsson and Qualcomm is being used in the pilot. Ericsson is providing a Radio Access solution with a new Carrier Aggregation technology and Radio Dot System, which allows small cell deployments to increase indoor coverage and capacity.

RED Technologies provides the spectrum management platform and Qualcomm provided 4G devices using its processors.

It is argued that this kind of spectrum sharing will be key to rolling out 5G across Europe.

The thinking behind the multi-operator approach to spectrum is that LTE and data require large chunks of spectrum, so dividing them into smaller chunks isn’t the most effective use.

Sharing aims to provide the benefits of infrastructure competition while getting the benefit of access to a bigger chunk of spectrum to provide higher speeds.

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However, sharing spectrum is not a simple matter of technology. For the pilot, the French regulatory authority ARCEP and the French Ministry of Defence had to authorise the use of the 2.3-2.4 Ghz band, indicating that since governments control the allocation of spectrum they will have to take some role in how the sharing is managed.

The French Ministry of Defence for one has indicated willingness to share spectrum with European telecoms operator.

"This initiative touches the core of the French telecoms industry and has the potential to considerably enhance the consumer mobile experience in France as well as generate significant economic return. The participants involved are demonstrating commendable foresight and inventive strength," said French Minister for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire.

In the UK, a total of 190 MHz of high-capacity spectrum in the bands 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz will be auctioned in early 2016. This follows an auction in October 2013 which saw most of the spectrum currently used for 4G being auctioned.

Long-term, however, the Government wishes to see a "gradual move away from exclusive use to shared use of frequencies, according to a March 2014 document.

"For the future we will also encourage innovation through various sharing arrangements," the document pledges.

In the UK, Ofcom has outlined three areas where it believes that sharing spectrum can bring benefits. It could allow wi-fi based on shared spectrum to operate indoors, while outdoors it could increase access to spectrum for use in small mobile broadband cells.

In addition, Ofcom considers it important for providing the spectrum needed for the Internet of Things.

"Spectrum accessed on a shared basis can provide a complementary approach to the use of dedicated spectrum bands," wrote Ofcom in an April 2014 statement.

"Sharing can occur geographically, where spectrum is unused in a particular location, or on a temporal basis, where spectrum is only being used at certain times."

When the first pilot will arrive in the UK, however, remains to be seen.

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