Hi3G to build first dual-mode LTE network
Plans TDD/FDD roll-out to maximize spectrum advantage in Scandinavia, as 3 Group breaks into profit at last
Published: 29 March, 2011
Ever disruptive, 3 Group is set to launch the world's first LTE network that supports both FDD and TDD (paired and unpaired) modes, years before such a system was envisaged for a commercial roll-out. The company will procure the equipment from ZTE for its Swedish and Danish subsidiaries, Hi3G Access.
Most European cellcos are focusing on the FDD flavor of LTE in the first wave of 4G build-out - their existing 3G networks are in paired spectrum, easing integration, and they have generally been leaving TDD spectrum licenses on the table during recent auctions. Many say they will seek TDD frequencies or partnerships at a later stage when data requirements rise, and some, notably Orange, are testing TD-LTE already. But 3 has gone a step further, buying both paired and unpaired spectrum in Denmark and acquiring Intel's TDD license in Sweden to add to its own FDD frequencies.
The company looks set to try to leapfrog rivals in terms of mobile broadband capacity, by supporting both modes simultaneously, and to focus on fixed services too, a strategy it has already used in some of its 3G territories to lure customers. Its challenges will lie in securing cost effective devices, as well as addressing some interference concerns between the two modes. China Mobile, the main flagwaver for TD-LTE, and partner Vodafone have called on the chip and device sectors to support both modes from day one in their products, but there is little indication yet that mainstream suppliers have heeded that call.
The deal is a major breakthrough for ZTE, which says it is already involved in 13 TD-LTE trials, but has secured fewer big name wins in European 4G or 3G+ than compatriot Huawei. It will also upgrade 70% of 3's Swedish HSPA network from 21Mbps to 42Mbps, even though that section is currently provided by Nokia Siemens - the remaining portion has already been upgraded by its supplier Ericsson. Ericsson also provided the Danish 3G network for Hi3G, but has lost out on the LTE build-out. ZTE has been chipping away at NSN, using the power of its vendor financing, which was a factor in its recent win in Austria.
As with many contracts, the attraction is the new breed of flexible, software programmable networks, which allow for relatively easy migration to new standards when required. All the major OEMs have such platforms now, but ZTE's Uni-RAN SDR has won strong support, especially with its flagship customer CSL in Hong Kong. "We have chosen ZTE for additional 3G 900/2100 roll-out and for LTE mobile broadband networks in Sweden and Denmark because of the possibility to house three different mobile standards in the same physical infrastructure and the low cost of ownership," said Hi3G CEO Peder Ramel in a statement.
Meanwhile, Hi3G's parent firm Hutchison 3 Group has announced its own major breakthrough, reporting a profit at last after eight years of launching its first services in Europe and Australia. Its territories are the UK and Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Australia. For the full year, that group reported EBIT of HK$2.93bn (US$376m), reversing a year-ago loss of HK$8.9bn. Revenue was up 10% in local currencies and 11% in Hong Kong dollars, to a total of HK$64.2bn. The only subsidiary not to achieve profit before interest and tax in the second half of 2010 was Ireland. The group's 3G customer base was up 13% in the year to total 29.6m subscribers, with 6m of them using dongles, datacards or embedded mobile PCs (this figure was up 32% year-on-year, reflecting 3's aggressive mobile broadband pricing). The Hutchison statement said that it had "entered a new era when the 3 Group will no longer be a drag on profits and will instead make a positive contribution."
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