Ofcom has modified the UK's mobile-operator licences to allow 3G services at 2G frequencies, though don't expect to be able to use them any time soon. The proposed modifications were published last year, but have now been enacted with a couple of clarifications (pdf) including a promise to open up the frequencies to new …
All operators have 3G licenses. Will it mean change of handsets?
Not if your phone is recent
Most UMTS phones are capable at of operating at several UMTS frequencies already, in fact the iphone can operate at 4 HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100. Check GSMARENA website if you want to know more about your own phone. Would imagine only Voda and 02 will make use of it and this will require hardware changes and a lot of cell site optimisation, in other words don't hold your breath.... LTE at 800 will be king
If I might disagree ...
Operators have been testing kit for a few years now, so they don't need to roll-out a "few test sites". It's already done.
Market rumour says O2 already have equipment in the field ready for a launch. Voda on the other hand are stuck with old Ericsson kit which can't be upgraded to UMTS 900 (so it is said). But it will happen sooner than later, since UMTS coverage is generally poor and GSM900 operators can get big benefits from UMTS900. To the customer, they can't tell (and don't care) which frequency they are using, so there isn't really a negative market issue - just migrate people over if they have a capable device.
In GSM1800, the situation is different. Why deploy UMTS 1800 when it isn't much better than UMTS2100? Better to skip to LTE. In either case, a new deployment is needed.
Expect a major upgrade program from everyman & dog over the next 2 years. That's quite a short time in network terms.
You haven't really disagreed with me, I wouldn't be suprised if 02 already have some UMTS900 kit out there ready to turn on especially in rural areas. Just don't think it's a real biggy and I still think UMTS will be out the door as soon as LTE kicks off so I reckon skipping and concentrating on deploying this is the best option for the Networks and us users. Can you see people getting rid of their home fixed line BB and replacing it with unpredictable UMTS? I can't and won't but with LTE coverage I'd be ringing my fixed line provider the very next day...
Keep up at the back
In Germany E-Plus has also successfully petitioned to run 3G on 900 MHz. Fun because they withdrew from the expensive 800 MHz "digital divide" auctions.
http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Regulierer-erlaubt-E-Plus-UMTS-Nutzung-der-GSM-Frequenzen-1156114.html (in German)
What about the Guard Band Licensees?
Will the winners of the Guard Band spectrum be allowed to run 3G? It's an interesting proposition because all the decent picocells are 3G. If you wanted to have a very local network it makes a cheap solution.
I believe the Guard Licenses are already allowed to use it for whatever they want but UMTS needs a 5MHz carrier so additional bandwidth would be needed.
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