Finns test UMTS900

Nokia and Finnish mobile operator Elisa claimed Monday to have carried out the world’s first UMTS/WCDMA/HSDPA data call using equipment in the 900MHz band on a commercial network.

Nokia said the call demonstrated the possibility of enhancing existing 3G networks with WCDMA/UMTS infrastructure in the 900MHz band. Because of its lower frequency, UMTS900 would be able to provide between two and four times more coverage than the most commonly used 2GHz band as well as increased indoor coverage.

Although Finland is one of the first countries to have allowed 3G trials in the 900MHz band, France is the only Western European country to date that has made legal provisions for the deployment of UMTS technologies in the 900MHz spectrum.

Almost everywhere in Western European countries the 900MHz spectrum is strictly tied to the use of GSM services but as these GSM licences come up for renewal it is anticipated that more regulators will follow the example of France and permit the deployment of different technologies in the GSM spectrum.

As was widely expected there has been resistance regarding in-band migration to WCDMA at 900MHz, mostly from WCDMA-only operators which do not have licences for spectrum in this band, as well as from GSM players who operate only in the 1800MHz band. The latter is a situation likely to lead to greater regulatory sensitivity in certain Western European countries such as the UK, Italy, Sweden and Denmark.

Matti Vikkula, executive vice president for Consumer and Small Enterprise Customers at Elisa said “building rural 3G coverage in a cost-efficient way is very important for us, and offering our customers HSPA services at 900MHz band is an interesting possibility to complement our existing HSPA services at 2100MHz”.

But the availability of compatible handsets could pose a major obstacle to the adoption of 3G over 900MHz or even 1800MHz.

When speaking to earlier this year, Peter Jarich, principal analyst for wireless infrastructure at Current Analysis, warned that handsets could be an issue for UMTS900 for some time. “No GSM operator will be able to make a complete switch over tomorrow without shipping new UMTS devices to all their users,” he said.

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