Turkey’s mobile broadband growth hindered by spectrum disparity among operators

Author: Ricardo Tavares
Published: 2014-05-26

A striking, but far from unique, feature of Turkey’s mobile telecoms market is the uneven distribution of the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum bands which were initially released for 2G GSM operations. 

The first market entrants, Turkcell and Vodafone, were awarded 900 MHz spectrum, of which they have 2 x 11 MHz each, but none at 1800 MHz. Later entrant Avea has a healthy 2 x 24 MHz of 1800 MHz spectrum (resulting from M&A activity) and a tiny amount, 2 x 2.4 MHz, at 900 MHz.  

All three operators won 3G licenses, with access to an equal amount of 2.1 GHz spectrum, at auction in November 2008.

According to GSMA Intelligence, as of Q1 2014 Turkcell had a 50.67% share of the mobile market, followed by Vodafone Turkey with 28.67% and Avea with 20.72%.  

Turkey had 70 million mobile connections at the end of 2013. The country has 92% mobile penetration, but only 43% of the population are unique subscribers. This means there is plenty of room for growth, and particularly mobile broadband growth. More than 60% of all mobile connections are 3G (but by comparison in Morocco for example 85% of all connections are 3G, according to regulator ANRT).

To achieve higher mobile broadband penetration (using both 3G and 4G), Turkey needs to resolve the disparity in spectrum allocations in 900/1800 and to allocated 800 MHz’s “digital dividend.” A full liberalization to use any spectrum band for any 3GPP technology would also help.

Due to the advance of technology and pressure from subscriber numbers Turkey has probably missed the boat on the redistribution of existing spectrum holdings as was done in several other countries, including Pakistan. In 2004, a policy reform led Mobilink, the dominant player in Pakistan, to give away some 900 MHz spectrum in order to access 1800 MHz. 

However Turkey is in the fortunate position of having idle, unallocated spectrum in both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands which could be released in such a way as to balance up operators’ sub 2GHz holdings. Since 2011 the Ministry of Communications and regulator BTK have been discussing this option but no final decision has been undertaken. 

For Turkey to forge ahead with mobile broadband the decisions to liberalise spectrum and release “spare” spectrum should be taken very soon. 

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