Myanmar telecoms companies have been waiting for more spectrum – but an announcement about an upcoming auction has raised concerns, as there is no finalised plan for how it will be managed.
The government released a draft version of its Spectrum Roadmap early this month, at nearly the same time it posted information about a potential plan to auction 140 megahertz of spectrum in a channel known as the 2600MHz band. Both documents, published on the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MICT) website, have requested public comment, with those on the roadmap due February 29.
For the country’s telcos to accommodate more data usage – and even move to 4G coverage – they need more spectrum. But two of the country’s three operators say before auctioning the resource, the government should have a plan in place to manage it.
Ooredoo CEO Rene Meza said the roadmap would not be finalised and implemented in time for the March 24 auction. “We are extremely concerned about this action. The first order of business should be a coherent spectrum roadmap,” he said in an email.
“Auctions should follow once the roadmap is in place. To conduct beforehand a hasty, insufficiently planned auction is truly putting the cart before the horse.”
Telenor Myanmar CEO Petter Furberg agreed the plan should come in advance of any auction. “We think it’s a rush and unnecessary to auction out spectrum before you actually have agreed on the plan for how you want to use the spectrum going forward,” Mr Furberg in an interview this week.
“We don’t think it’s going to take a long time to conclude those discussions,” he said. “Subsequent to that we hope the government will come out quickly with auctions on spectrum.”
Posts and Telecommunications Department director U Than Htun Aung did not respond to requests for comment on the auction’s timeline.
Mr Meza said it was unclear what was spurring the government to act fast, and without much industry consultation. “[It] is really a surprise auction of spectrum that is not a high-priority application according to international best practices,” he said.
An industry source close to the discussions said the government wanted to conclude the auction before the transition to a new administration.
Spectrum bands are like highways that host mobile traffic. A rule of thumb says the higher the frequency of the spectrum, the shorter its reach and greater its capacity.
In Myanmar, state-owned incumbent Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) currently has the most spectrum in the market – 70MHz. Foreign entrants Ooredoo and Telenor each possess 40MHz.
The government is considering granting industry players access to various bands, with 140MHz of spectrum on the 2600MHz channel potentially the first to be auctioned.
Neither Ooredoo nor Telenor portrayed this as the best band to begin with. “It’s very rare, anywhere in the world, that someone starts by issuing 2600MHz,” said Mr Furberg. “It’s one of the last bands that you use, purely for capacity, in very dense areas because it has limited reach, it is penetrating poorly through walls – it will not give people a good experience if it was used.” He said that particular band was usually a last layer added on top of other bands with further reach, “purely for capacity”.
Mr Furberg said that the most frequently used band for LTE – “Long Term Evolution” coverage beyond 3G – is 1800MHz, while spectrum on the 700MHz band could boost reach. “Either one is in our view what the government should release first,” he said.
Both the 700MHz band and the 1800MHz band have been identified by the government as options for spectrum designation by 2020. Right now, MPT is the only operator with spectrum in the 1800MHz band, bestowed on a temporary basis in 2013 to help the telco anchor the SEA Games and work toward implementing LTE.
The government said in its draft roadmap that it could make the 1800MHz band available after the auction of the 2600MHz band, with a target timeline set at Q4 2016.
In the meantime, the date of the auction for spectrum in the 2600MHz band has been set for March 24, though the framework document leaves some room for flexibility.
It also encourages “all stakeholders” to send in comments by February 17 – and Ooredoo said it would offer its own take. “We believe that rushing to the auction is not the right decision,” Mr Meza said.