Russian state-owned 4G network could oust licence holders

The Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media has made an official proposal to revoke the 4G licences acquired by privately-owned mobile operators and create a state-owned LTE network.

Four operators – MegaFon, MTS, Rostelecom and VimpelCom – gained licences last year after a tendering process overseen by the Federal Service for Supervision in Telecommunications, Roskomnadzor.

Licence winners were obliged to begin providing services by 1st of June 2013, with 2019 set as the deadline for fully-functional nationwide networks. The licence terms also stipulated an annual investment of RUB15 billion ($480 million) into each operator’s network.

However, Russian officials have reportedly claimed that the current deployments have too strong a focus on major cities when licence holders should be concentrating on narrowing the digital divide in the country’s various regions.

To remedy this, the ministry has proposed to the presidential administration that there should be a single, state-owned LTE provider whose network can then be accessed by other operators. This would require two years of construction for a network comprised of minimum 30,000 base stations – worth around RUB60 billion.

The state-run operator would require access to the 720-750MHz and 761-862MHz frequency bands, as well as the currently unavailable 390-470MHz and 694-876MHz bands. Operators would be able to retain spectrum in the 2,500-2,700MHz range.

The licence-holding operators are unsurprisingly against the proposal, and they may be in luck – revoking their spectrum licences will likely require a court decision, and the ministry has already acknowledged that they must be compensated whatever the circumstances if the proposal is approved.

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