Singapore’s StarHub has taken its 4G fate into its own hands, revealing today it will shut down part of its 2G network to make room for LTE, rather than wait around for new 4G spectrum to materialize. It will launch an LTE network by the end of 2012 over its 1800 MHz airwaves, using Nokia Siemens Networks gear.
Though StarHub’s competitors SingTel and M1 have both launched LTE networks on the Island nation using 1800 MHz, StarHub claims to be the first operator in Southeast Asia to “refarm” currently utilized 2G frequencies for 4G, instead of just launching over unused airwaves. StarHub probably had little choice if it wanted to keep pace with its rivals, as Singapore still hasn’t revealed an date for the auctioning of new 4G spectrum.
Though the 2600 GHz and 800 MHz ‘digital dividend’ bands have been identified as the the primary 4G bands around the world, auction delays and the fact that many of those frequencies already have broadcaster tenants have kept many operators from rolling out their new networks. Many of them have begun looking to their old digital voice airwaves (1800 MHz is the international equivalent of the U.S. PCS band) to get LTE to market faster.
Eastern European operators were among the first to use 1800 MHz as a 4G launch pad, while in Western Europe, Deutsche Telekom and TeliaSonera have also tapped into their 2G frequencies to augment their designated 4G licenses. In the U.K. Everything Everywhere – a tie-up between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom – is trying to pool its 2G airwaves to build LTE well ahead of the U.K.’s 4G auctions. And in Italy, Hutchison Whampoa’s 3 is using the band to get a jump on competitors Wind and Vodafone. In the Asia-Pacific region, Telstra in Australia and Korea Telecom are also reaping their old 2G spectrum.
Many of those operators are tapping into unused 1800 MHz frequencies, but few have taken the radical step of actually shutting down existing network capacity to get at those airwaves. We’re starting to see the same thing happen in the U.S. but on different frequencies. While Sprint has designated an unused block of its PCS airwaves for its initial LTE rollout, it plans to refarm its old Nextel frequencies for 4G, after it sunsets its iDEN network. T-Mobile is being even more aggressive, compacting its 2G networks into a small portion of its PCS airwaves, to make room for more HSPA+ and a new LTE network.