In 2011 approximately 32,000 base stations will be upgraded and retrofitted to support 4G services, according to ABI Research. Approximately 19,000 base stations will be deployed onto new sites to help infill capacity and remove dead spots and poor coverage zones for 4G enterprise and residential users. A considerable amount of that equipment will be in the 2.5 GHz and related bands, but operators will be keen to deploy into lower frequency bands.

“Provisioning 4G services and spectrum re-farming will provide a welcome boost to the wireless infrastructure market," says Jake Saunders, ABI VP for Forecasting. "ABI Research estimates that 4G equipment spending on base stations will reach almost $3 B in 2011 and potentially $16.5 B in 2016.”

In a number of countries, regulators are clawing back the spectrum generously allocated to analog broadcast television and auctioning off the “digital dividend” frequency bands (790 to 862 MHz) to help support the rollout of 4G mobile network services, especially for more widely scattered towns and villages.

“Innovative technologies such as HSxPA, HSPA+, LTE, and LTE-Advanced are helping operators make the best use of the spectrum at their disposal,” adds Mobile Networks Practice Director Aditya Kaul. “However, engineers are increasingly approaching the limit of how many bits of information can be carried per Hertz of spectrum. You just cannot get away from the advantages of having additional spectrum to boost capacity.”

It is not just mature telco markets such as France, Portugal, the UK, and Switzerland that are in the process of allocating 4G spectrum in the 800 MHz band, but also India, Chile, Argentina and Poland. More will follow.