THE Government plans to auction two telecommunications licences by July.
Approval for operators in the 700 megahertz (MHz) band will pave the way for the roll-out of 4G technology, such as Long Term Evolution (LTE), while the requirements demand that networks or services be deployed across 90 per cent of the country within five years.
The auction opens in May, according to Telecommuni-cations Minister Phillip Paulwell, who yesterday told Parliament that potential investors from Asia, Europe and North America have already expressed interest.
Importantly, the cost of deployment of the networks, primarily aimed at improving broadband in Jamaica, is lower than systems operating at higher frequencies.
"The 700 MHz band spectrum tends to be more penetrative and propagates farther, meaning that the signal goes through walls more easily, giving better coverage inside buildings, and requires fewer towers to cover a specific geographic area," said Paulwell.
What's more, a provision in the Telecoms Amendment Act, which empowers the OUR to impose an infrastructure sharing obligation on all licensees, should allow new players in the sector to roll out without taking on heavy costs of infrastructure and facilities such as cell sites and towers, landing stations and cables.
The winner of one of the licences, called the first prime band, may also be required to build and operate international sub-sea fibre-optic cables, but approval for that would come with the award of the licence.
"The licences will be awarded to the highest bidders, once their bids meet or exceed the reserve price, and upon being determined as "fit and proper" by the regulators," said the telecommunications minister. "Both licences have a 15-year term. I'd like to underscore here how serious the Government is about the requirement to deliver mobile broadband services within the timeframe established, and if the timeframe is not adhered to, I will promptly withdraw that licence."
LTE is a highly effective next-generation mobile technology that allows delivery of data, Internet applications, video streaming, mobile TV and music downloads and streaming to mobile devices in higher definition than is possible with existing 3G technologies and at speeds that rival current domestic fixed broadband connections, according to Paulwell.
Some networks in the US boast that LTE can download up to 10 times faster than 3G.
Internationally the band was used for analogue television broadcasting, but has been allocated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for broadband wireless services.
Brazil, North America and most of the rest of South America have already rolled out commercial LTE service, made commitments to do so or are in the process of deploying the network.
Jamaica has the capacity to accommodate three licensees with the frequency band.