Frequency dispute looms over 3G mobile services

Although the government has yet to issue licenses to mobile operators, a global wireless industry body is already advocating the use of the 2.1GHz frequency for the deployment of third-generation (3G) mobile services in the Philippines.

However, this could lead to another dispute over radio frequency use since the 2.1GHz band is currently being used by local entities. This was confirmed by Pricilla Demetion, head of the frequency management division of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

NTC is the government regulatory body in charge of radio frequency allocations. The commission is currently conducting public consultations to resolve disputes over the use of the 2.4GHz frequency band for wireless Internet, better known as wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi). Based on standards set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the 2.1GHz frequency is currently a global industry standard used by other countries rolling out 3G networks, said Mario Tiesmaki, vice president of the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) in Asia-Pacific.

SA is composed of mobile suppliers including Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel and Ericsson and has as its common goal the promotion of the development of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology. The group’s Asia-Pacific chapter covers Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Tiesmaki believes the Philippines is in a “viable” position to move up to 3G given the success of Short Messaging Service (SMS) and the recent growth of Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) in the country.

“There is no reason why the Philippines should not follow. Timing is just the issue,” the GSA official noted in a recent interview.

For operators, moving up to 3G is not as easy as just hopping from one frequency to another. It involves another massive investment to create another network meant for another platform.

Nonetheless, both Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. have already announced their respective testing of 3G equipment. Tiesmaki is also optimistic that local operators would eventually upgrade their networks to the wCDMA technology. While the acronym implies a relationship to CDMA (code division multiple access), wCDMA is actually an upgrade of GSM that is used by most operators in Asia and Europe.

In the Asia-Pacific alone, Tiesmaki estimated that at least 15 operators will roll out wCDMA networks towards the end of 2004.

Around 112 operators worldwide have committed to deploy wCDMA on the 2.1GHz band, the GSA official added. Meanwhile, NTC’s Demetion acknowledged that opening the 2.1GHz frequency for would-be 3G players may result in conflicts with existing frequency users.

The NTC official, however, declined to disclose who and how many local users are currently operating on the frequency.

Demetion likened what may happen to a previous case where the NTC had to order the transfer of those using the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequencies to give way to cellular GSM operators.

The NTC formed a working group two months ago to conduct a study on 3G and its possible development in the country.