GSMA: Spectrum is a political issue

Why looming spectrum shortage could damage regional telcos
Peter Lyons, director of MENA at GSMA.
Peter Lyons, director of MENA at GSMA.

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Peter Lyons, director of MENA at GSMA, tells CommsMEA about the risks of policy makers and regulators underestimating mobile broadband growth in the Middle East.

CommsMEA: What has the GSMA presented during the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG)?

We talk bilaterally to at least half a dozen regulators to get the message across: the mobile data traffic patent growth that we are seeing on the operators networks is far above anything that has been discuss.

It is important for governments to realise that without a future spectrum agenda, operators will have very limited visibility and very limited incentive for making the kind of investment needed to face this future mobile data growth.

The policy makers and regulators fundamentally underestimate how people are using mobile data in this region.

CommsMEA: Which countries are aware of this need of spectrum for the mobile industry?

The Arab Spectrum Management Group meeting was a great opportunity to get the message to as many countries as possible. There is an awareness among regulators in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example. The problem with future spectrum is that now that spectrum is allocated for other use, for instance satellite, or television broadcast, such as terrestrial broadcast.

The spectrum issue is not a technical issue. If there is a technical issue, it is very easy to solve. It is a political issue.

If future spectrum is not agreed in November during the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), it will not be agreed until 2023.

CommsMEA: Why the C-Band is a valid spectrum band for mobile operators?

C-Band (3.4–4.2GHz) is a huge amount of spectrum and the satellite industry can benefit from some of the lessons that the mobile industry has learnt from using spectrum more efficiently. The demand and the growth is not coming from satellites or broadband, it is in the mobile industry. Using just the lower portion of the C-band (3.4-3.8GHz) for mobile could generate at least $7.6 billion for the Arab States economies. The economic benefits would be approximately 24 times higher than the $316 million cost of migrating satellite services to the higher portion of the C-band or to the Ka/Ku bands.

CommsMEA: The mobile industry is not too developed in some countries in the MEA region, do they need to address this need now?

Addressing the need means that the countries at a national level will have the possibility to use the spectrum when they need it. For example, in Egypt, there is a lot of demand. When the market asks for the need, it needs to be ready. To be honest, there is need for that spectrum now in the country.

These countries [where the mobile industry is not fully developed] won’t have the flexibility to get the spectrum if it is not agreed in an international level during the WRC in November, as it takes around four years to agree internationally.

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