DiGi able to roll out LTE despite spectrum limitation: COO

  • DiGi says its LTE spectrum is sufficient for the time being
  • Company working on refarming the 1800MHz spectrum

[Original heading amended to better reflect DiGi's stand]

MALAYSIA'S third largest mobile operator DiGi.com Bhd believes it has enough spectrum to grow its 4G-LTE (Fourth Generation Long-Term Evolution) coverage even though it has spectrum limitations.

DiGi, part of the Norwegian telecommunications giant Telenor ASA, currently has two blocks of 10MHz spectrum on the 2600MHz band. The spectrum was awarded for the telecommunications service provider to roll out mobile broadband services via LTE technology.
The Malaysian Government awarded the 4G-LTE spectrum to eight companies, the others being Maxis Bhd, Celcom Axiata Bhd, U Mobile Sdn Bhd, Redtone International Bhd, Packet One Networks (M) Sdn Bhd (P1), YTL Communications Sdn Bhd, and Altel Communications Sdn Bhd.
DiGi's rivals such as Celcom and Maxis are sharing their respective LTE spectra with the other successful LTE candidates, as a way to provide high-speed wireless broadband services more cost-effectively.
Celcom is working with Altel, while Maxis is working with U Mobile and Redtone on spectrum-sharing deals.
P1, which at one point in time appeared to be a possible takeover target for DiGi, ended up being acquired by fixed-line operator Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

This leaves DiGi as the only incumbent mobile operator without a spectrum-sharing partner.
DiGi able to roll out LTE despite spectrum limitation: COO“For now, what we are committed to is building 1,500 LTE sites by the end of this year. I think there is more than enough spectrum to even double that (site coverage)," DiGi chief operating officer Albern Murty (pic) told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of the Disrupt discussion last week where he was a panellist.
"So there is enough spectrum for the [time being],” he added.
DiGi is also looking at using the 1800MHz band to roll out its LTE services. It has two blocks of the 25MHz spectrum in that band.
“We are working on the technical perspective of refarming [the 1800MHz spectrum] first. If it is something that we can do, then it is an opportunity that we can pursue," Albern said.

"Ultimately, we need the approval of the regulator [the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission or MCMC], but for now, we need to understand the technology and what we can do within a certain spectrum.
“So, I don’t think DiGi is worried about [spectrum] limitations at this point in time,” he claimed.
Although DiGi is believed to be using the 1800MHz band for its entire GSM [or Third Generation technology] user base, it is not uncommon for mobile operators to use the 1800MHz band for high-speed wireless broadband services like LTE.
In fact, experts believe that launching LTE on the 1800MHz spectrum has its advantages compared with the 2600MHz spectrum. One advantage is the greater availability of handsets and devices.
Besides being seemingly handicapped when it comes to the LTE spectrum, DiGi is also short in the 900MHz band. Currently, Celcom has two blocks of 17MHz of the 900MHz band, Maxis has 2x16 MHz while DiGi has 2x2 MHz.
On what the company is planning to do to get more allocation on the 900MHz band, Albern said that it all depends on the regulator, adding that he did not want to elaborate further.
Related Stories:
LTE gestation to take time
It’s spectrum rebalancing: MCMC on 2.6GHz allocation
Disrupt: LTE can boost ARPU, but will take time

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