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Recent news of an Austrian 5G auction that won’t involve eye-watering sums has, not surprisingly, been greeted with a very positive response from commentators and analysts – not to mention operators.

Austria’s Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) has said it wants to establish an investment-friendly framework: that means more than 20-year licences, a reserve price for spectrum in the 700 MHz, 1500 MHz and 2100 MHz bands totalling €295 million and a liberal sharing framework.

This is very modest compared to, say, India, Germany or a number of other countries where spectrum valuation does not seem to consider the MNOs RoI or indeed the social usefulness of 5G.

There’s no mandated wholesale access either, although the usual stringent coverage conditions will apply, albeit with a bonus system to sweeten the pill. RTR has created an affordable framework which leaves MNOs money to invest whilst imposing a cleverly devised coverage obligation mechanism that improves population, street and remote/rural (blackspot) coverage – all things that really matter to consumers and industry.

Why do I highlight this piece of news? Well, Real Wireless has worked for several regulators over the years, a process that has allowed us to develop tools and processes that can provide regulators like RTR with detailed network information that helps inform their policymaking and spectrum auction decisions.

And that is what we did in this case. Our role in advising RTR was to look at densification of the existing MNO networks in line with the requirements to estimate the number of sites required (and cost incurred) for an MNO to meet coverage obligations.

As long ago as 2017 (please see case study) we predicted the achievable 700 MHz coverage from all the Austrian MNOs’ site infrastructure and the additional sites needed to meet certain coverage obligations (such as population, roads and landmass). We also provided the cost for these additional sites – including distance from built-up areas, which is important for the estimation of power and fibre digging costs.

The MNOs played an important part in this process by engaging with the Real Wireless team to validate the work we did for RTR. This intensive process provided confidence to all parties that any decisions based on our work were built on solid foundations.

Which brings us to 2019 and our most recent work for RTR. In this project, the prediction requirements became more refined, detailed and challenging.

The first step was to examine achievable coverage based on existing infrastructure. Using the complete site database of all Austrian MNOs (including site coordinates, sector number/orientation, antenna heights, tilts, antenna types and antenna pattern), we predicted achievable coverage and capacity if these sites were upgraded to 700 MHz. This process was conducted for a number of operator scenarios under evaluation, involving e.g. different channel bandwidths. For each scenario, we reported the pathloss, signal level and data rate for nearly 10 million prediction points per run. These results were then post processed to deliver predicted coverage results for settlement areas, roads, population and the landmass for different download and upload data rates based on the existing MNO infrastructure.

In the next steps, we started to add sites to densify the MNOs networks based on municipality level coverage obligations, followed by a further network densification step based on national coverage obligations. This process is currently still in progress and the results are eagerly expected by RTR.

Like most countries, the mobile voice and data services available in rural areas – and along parts of the road and rail networks – can be poor and in some cases, simply not available. The challenge in Austria is further exacerbated by the terrain. The good news is that the work RTR commissioned from Real Wireless has provided the detail required to develop a 5G auction that will, over time, deliver improvements to mobile coverage in these challenging areas.

Real Wireless has recognised for some time that, ultimately, the delivery of improved mobile services to such challenging areas requires the cooperation of multiple parties to drive down the cost of deployment. This starts with regulators taking a pragmatic approach to the auction of spectrum, such as RTR have taken here, but for this to be truly successful, it will also require MNOs, land owners, government departments and local councils to work together to create the platform for the deployment of sites of the right type in the right locations that are cost effective.

The processes and tools that Real Wireless has developed can be used to help regulators, mobile operators, neutral hosts, road & rail operators, local authorities and landowners to understand better what the deployment options are to deliver mobile voice and data services to consumers – whether on a national or local level. Please contact us if you think you could benefit from our support.

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