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14 | June 2008
How much spectrum is enough?
Depending on their target markets, WiMAX operators will need different amounts
of spectrum to deliver profi table services. By Adlane Fellah, Maravedis
t is oft en said that having According to Kevin Suitor, VP, business “Determining needed spectrum also
lots of spectrum is a ‘must development, at Redline Communications, depends on the combination of frequency
have’ asset for wireless “All deployment scenario analysis we’ve and application,” adds Robert Syputa,
operators who want to scale looked in the past indicate that 30MHz is senior analyst at Maravedis. “While sub-
their service off ering. But how the minimum required to provide decent 1GHz is considered beachfront property
much spectrum do operators residential broadband service, assuming that in terms of coverage and ease of building
need to off er fi xed, portable we are talking about providing continuous penetration, higher frequency bands, such
and mobile broadband services [ubiquitous] coverage in urban areas.” as 2.3-2.6GHz and 3.5-3.7GHz, have higher
on a profi table basis? Haig Sarkissian from WiMAX 2020, a reuse factors. Th us lower frequency spectra
Adlane Fellah
In our Clearspectrum data- provider of business and fi nancial planning is most useful for broadcast, messaging
base, we have accounted for more tools for WiMAX, concurs. “Th e amount and mobile phone applications, while
than 1,000 spectrum owners in the 700MHz, of spectrum needed depends highly on the higher frequencies are better suited to
2.5GHz and 3.5GHz bands. And by break- amount of traffi c that needs to be supported Internet, data networking, fi le sharing and
ing down these operators by the amount of on a given cell site,” he says. “Th is is a factor higher defi nition video applications.”
spectrum they own/lease, we fi nd that of the of the geographic coverage area of a cell, According to Redline, the lack of
top 200 BWA/WiMAX licensees worldwide the number of users, the oversubscription spectrum will dictate a need for ‘tighter’
a surprisingly high amount (28 percent) rate, the types of applications used and their frequency reuse and hence lower quality of
owns more than 50MHz. Operators holding throughput requirements. Th e ideal amount service. Segmentation can be used to mitigate
between 20MHz and 50MHz account for 59 of bandwidth needed depends on the traffi c this problem, but then the achievable per
percent of the total, while those having less model on a regional basis.” sector capacity will be reduced and this will
than 20MHz make up the rest. For rural deployments with low obviously impact the overall business case.
Th e global numbers hide signifi cant population densities, 15MHz of spectrum Haig from WiMAX 2020 adds: “Th e lack
regional diff erences. CALA is the region would usually be suffi cient. For urban of spectrum will start causing network
with the highest percentage of opera- and suburban deployments with high capacity issues as the traffi c in a network
tors (over half) who own ‘fat’ amounts of population densities, 30MHz would be increases over time. Unfortunately, for
spectrum, which gives them an advantage necessary. Based on the traffi c generated those operators who do not have enough
over their Asian counterparts, particularly on the network, it would be desirable to spectrum, the only way to mitigate these
the Indian operators, who have the lowest have 60MHz or even 90MHz available in issues is by adding more base stations,
amount of spectrum. order to be able to expand the network as which is an expensive proposition.”
But how much spectrum is enough? traffi c demands dictate the need for ad- Th e adjacent table clearly shows that the
Th ere is probably not a single answer. ditional bandwidth. more spectrum owned, the more likely an
Th e most popular channels in the mobile Further, the minimum amount of operator is to deploy commercially. For
WiMAX profi les are 5MHz and 10MHz, spectrum can also depend on whether a instance, 66 percent of those who own more
while 3.5MHz channels are characteristic given operator is expanding its off ering to than 50MHz have deployed a commercial
of 802.16-2004 radios. mobile services. network, while a large proportion of those
who own 20MHz or less of spectrum are
WiMAX /BWA deployment status by spectrum ownership
either doing nothing with it or are in a trial

Commercial Trial Planned Idle Total
phase to test the robustness of the network
Launch Spectrum under tight spectrum conditions.
% by category percentage percentage percentage percentage percentage
<20 MHz 48% 28% 8% 16% 100%
Adlane Fellah is the founder of Maravedis, a
20-50 MHz 63% 16% 8% 13% 100% world leader and pioneer in Broadband Wire-
>50 MHz 66% 13% 13% 9% 100% less and WiMAX market research and analysis
TOTAL 62% 17% 10% 12% 100% ( Th e author would
like to thank the WiMAXCounts team and, in
particular, Cintia Garza for putting the unique
hard data together for use in this article
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