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Orange and P4 may create joint venture

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Polish P4 and Orange may buddy up for LTE concession.
Polish mobile operators P4 (Play) and Orange Poland plan to set up a joint venture for participation in the tender for Long Term Evolution (LTE) spectrum rights. The operators have already applied to the national competition watchdog UOKiK for clearance of the cooperation, according to postings on their corporate blogs.

The tender for two frequency blocks of 35MHz each in the 2.6GHz frequency band is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. The operators said the blocks are much too large for the needs of a single operator, suggesting the regulator may want to see more cooperation in the industry. Orange said it will take a final decision on whether to partner with Play after it receives the competition regulator's opinion and the tender details are published, TeleGeography reports.

RAN sharing and even spectrum pooling will be key features of 4G deployments as operators look to reduce cost and risk, and support new wholesale-oriented models. The template has been established by carriers like Clearwire in the US, and as Europe's LTE wave gathers pace, there will be many different sharing initiatives. One may be in Poland, where two mobile operators - PTK Centertel (Orange Poland) and P4 (Play) - plan to establish a joint venture to bid for 2.6GHz spectrum.

The would-be partners have applied to the national competition watchdog UOKiK for permission, in the run-up to the sale of two 35MHz blocks of spectrum, which should be announced within a few weeks. While, in some markets, carriers are complaining that they are not receiving enough spectrum to support real mobile broadband models, in Poland, the cellcos say 35MHz is too much for a single company's needs.

The Polish regulations are still to be finalized, and the move towards 4G has already been fraught with problems. Opponents say the decision to offer just two 2.6GHz licenses this year will restrict competition. Last fall, the major players boycotted the auction of an initial 2.6GHz license because of "onerous terms", which included reserving a minimum of 20% of the capacity for free broadband services. This resulted in smaller telco Aero2 winning a race of just two bidders to gain a national license (the losing contender was Milmex). Aero2 is also launching HSPA+ in its 900MHz GSM spectrum.

Despite the controversies, Poland is one of the most vibrant mobile economies in Europe and the focus of attention for several large operators. The largest cellcos are Plus (the brand name for former state telco Polkomtel, in which Vodafone holds a 24% stake); followed by Orange and Era, and then 3G-only Play/P4, which is has the largest number of 3G connections. P4 and further stakes in Plus are seen as key acquisition targets, and earlier this year, the two Korean cellcos, KT and SKT, were said to be mulling a joint bid for a stake in a Polish carrier, claims Rethink Wireless.

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