What can users expect from 4G networks?
The long process of shifting Ireland towards next generation mobile services finally came to a tipping point last week with the announcement by the Communications Regulator that it had allocated new space on the spectrum to Ireland’s mobile operators.
It has been a four-year slog for the regulator and the networks, during which Ireland has been in danger of falling behind again in the telecoms market. 4G services have already been rolled out in other European countries, including Germany, Spain, Italy and, most recently, Britain.
Last week, ComReg revealed the results of its multiband auction, which saw blocks of spectrum in the 800MHz, 900Mhz and 1800Mhz bands sold off to the four mobile companies, which paid between €51.5 million and €140 million for the privilege.
The licences were awarded over two timeframes, with the longest running until 2030.
But what does the new spectrum actually mean for consumers and businesses?
The bottom line is that it will see improved service for Irish mobile users and mobile internet subscribers, both on 3G and on the next generation of mobile services in the coming months.
For LTE services, it adds up to faster broadband speed. This opens the way for services that are dependent on high-speed data such as video and online gaming to be used across mobile services.
“Upload speeds, in particular, are going to be radically improved,” Vodafone’s Paul Ryan said. “That will change user experience. In the past, as the internet developed it was about download speed; this is about download and upload.”
It’s a significant investment for each of the mobile companies. Aside from the upfront costs, which totalled €482 million in aggregate, each network will have to pay a certain amount every year to use the spectrum, netting the exchequer €373 million in fees over the 17-year period, according to today’s calculations – well ahead of pre-auction guesstimates.
Those payments are in addition to the money each network will have to invest in upgrading its infrastructure throughout Ireland to ensure it meets minimum targets laid down by the regulator – 70 per cent of population coverage within three years.
Plans are already under way among Ireland’s mobile providers. O2 has announced that it will invest €200 million in upgrading its network across the State. The 3 network said it would do the same, while it also has a site-sharing agreement with Vodafone, increasing its site numbers and boosting its coverage. 3’s chief technology officer, David Hennessy, said the combination of the two would offer a “drastic” improvement to the network.
Vodafone, meanwhile, has earmarked investment of €500 million in the coming years to bring its network up to speed, and says work has already begun.
Eircom, which owns Meteor and eMobile, is viewing the spectrum as part of a €1.5 billion investment in its network infrastructure, which includes fibre connectivity. The mobile portion is €300 million.