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WiMAX mobility debate rumbles on in Brazil

Should the winners in Brazil’s upcoming licence auction in the 3.5GHz frequency band be allowed to offer some form of ‘mobile’ service?  And, if so, what form should that mobile service take?

These questions continue to spark heated debate among Anatel, Brazil’s telecom regulator, and the country’s operator and service provider communities.

“It would be interesting to have some form of restricted mobility at 3.5GHz but that would increase the value of the spectrum,” says Maximiliano Martinhao, manager at Anatel’s spectrum division. “We are carrying out a study regarding [the impact of] restricted mobility at 3.5GHz.”

Martinhao was speaking at the special focus day on regulatory issues ahead of the WiMAX Forum Latin America Congress conference and exhibition, held in Rio de Janeiro,  organised by Informa Telecoms & Media on behalf of the WiMAX Forum.

 And by refusing to contemplate ‘full mobility’ at 3.5GHz, on the grounds it would undermine the value of  the 3G licences at 2.1GHz (which operators purchased in an auction in December 2007), Anatel continues to ruffle some feathers.

“We should be able to offer all the type of services that are possible in the frequency,” says Elisabete Trachez De Couto, an executive director at operator Embratel. She argues that the 3G and WiMAX business models are “completely different” anyway and so would not compete head on.

Jose Luiz Frauendorf, executive director at Neotec, which represents a number of operators in Brazil, takes a different tack. The debate about what constitutes mobility, he argues, is not relevant – at least not yet – and is actually holding back broadband development in Brazil by delaying the licensing process. “Right now, for mobile WiMAX, you don’t hear operators saying that mobility is essential for the business case. Maybe it will be important in 3-5 years but what we need is broadband right now.  I don’t believe mobility is fundamental.”

Frauendorf argues that upping the price of 3.5GHz spectrum by associating it with mobility, even it is in the ‘restricted’ sense, is unfair as operators won’t be using mobile services to begin with. “I’m not against mobility,” he says, “but I am against paying a higher cost for something we don’t yet need.”

Anatel is currently undertaking a new round of public consultation, which started on 4 November and runs to 5 January 2009, about the terms and conditions of the 3.5GHz licence awards. What is known is that Anatel will auction the 200MHz of spectrum available in the 3.4-3.6GHz frequency range in 5MHz slots. Although Anatel originally intended to set a cap of 30MHz (using FDD or TDD technologies) per 3.5GHz licensee, Martinhao reports that there has been some feedback in the consultation process to lower the cap to 20MHz so as to increase the number of operators and heat up competition.

When the consultation process is finished, Martinhao expects the issuing of 3.5GHz licences in February or March.

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