Brazilian MMDS Operators, After 3 Years, Finally Get Some Clarity from Spectrum Regulators

In Brazil, the last spectrum auction that occurred in 2007 was for 3G frequencies. Auctions for other frequencies were planned for 2008. That year, the auction was postponed to mid-2009, and in December 2009 it was postponed to mid-2010. MMDS operators owned 190 MHz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz and 2.6 GHz range, in which they had wanted to, as early as 2007, deploy WiMAX and provide triple-play services to customers.

MMDS operators have been providing broadband services on these frequencies since 1997. So when claims that broadband couldn't be done over the air and that WiMAX wouldn't be able to provide this using these frequencies they argued otherwise. They pointed out that WiMAX would be much more efficient than the radio standard being used at the moment to provide these services.

Earlier this year, the country’s regulator announced that they were going to allocate 50 MHz to the MMDS operators. They contested, saying that they could not maintain themselves competitive with this amount of spectrum. In August 2010 the regulator announced 70 MHz of spectrum for their use. The frequencies allocated were 2 x 10 MHz of FDD spectrum, and 50 MHz of TDD spectrum. The regulator plans to auction the rest of the 120 MHz of spectrum in July 2013. MMDS operators can use the 190 MHz of spectrum until June of 2013. A time line has been given to the MMDS operators of 1 year to choose a technology, and 18 months to deploy it for use in these frequencies following this month's announcement.

This may seem like another tug-of-war of standards and/or incumbents trying to set roadblocks to a promising standard. It may also seem like a regulatory body also protecting the current incumbent mobile phone operators from a faster 4G technology from taking off, as well as securing a 120 MHz chunk of spectrum that will auction for a very good price to mobile operators. But the fact of the matter is, Brazil has many regions in which underserved areas would benefit greatly from broadband coverage. MMDS operators were very vocal during this 3 year plight of wanting some answers regarding their spectrum licenses and that they were not interested in mobility or competing with incumbent mobile operators. They wanted to provide the service and maintain competitive versus other types of technologies, as well as reach out and expand to regions where broadband was inexistent.

Had the regulator defined their situation previously, and allocated the spectrum to MMDS operators, they could have deployed with the assurance that they weren't going to lose their frequency licenses. These operators and the people of many regions in this country would have benefitted with this technology. Roadblocks like these have hindered an early deployment of WiMAX in developing countries from enabling broadband in regions that were underserved.