40% of UMTS Band 1 is Unused

While in the US, network operators were perhaps struggling with the amount of spectrum they had for their 3G services and thus rushed to jump onto the LTE bandwagon, Europe continues to enjoy very good data rates over 3G UMTS to this day (for details have a look here for example) in addition to the massive additional capacity now available on other frequency bands with LTE. So I was wondering a bit how much for the UMTS 2100 MHz band 1 spectrum is actually used today.

Cologne is one of the bigger cities in Germany so it is fair to assume that it is also a place in which the highest number of UMTS carriers are needed to satisfy demand. In total, band 1 can host 12 individual UMTS 5 MHz carriers. In practice, however, SDR-Sharp and my DVB-T stick show quite clearly that only 7 of those are used today. In other words, 40% of the bandwidth available for UMTS in this band are still unused.

It's interesting to also look at how many 5 MHz slots each of the four network operators has in Germany in the prime UMTS band. The distribution is as follows:

  • Operator 1: 2 channels
  • Operator 2: 3 channels
  • Operator 3: 3 channels
  • Operator 4: 4 channels

Operator 1 has both channels on air and thus, LTE in other bands is the only way to increase available capacity.

Operator 2 and 3 also have two channels on air and in addition have deployed 10 MHz in band 20 for LTE. If necessary, they could still extend their UMTS capacity with one extra channel.

Operator 4 is only using one of its four channels so far! That's in line with that operator always trailing all other operators in speed tests by quite a bit. As that operator does not have spectrum for LTE in the 800 MHz band I would not be surprised if they started with LTE in the 2100 MHz band with a 10 or 15 MHz carrier.