GSMA warns of 5G spectrum access risk

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With one year to go to the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), the GSMA – which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide – is calling on governments to support mobile industry spectrum needs.

The GSMA warns that the successful rollout of ultra-fast 5G services relies on timely access to the right amount and type of spectrum in the next year. As the race to launch 5G services intensifies, the GSMA, in an industry position paper, GSMA Public Policy Position on 5G Spectrum, highlights the need for governments, regulators and the mobile industry to work together to deliver widespread coverage, and the full potential of 5G for everyone.

According to the paper, governments around the world have started to auction spectrum for 5G networks, but variations in how much spectrum has been assigned, the onerous conditions imposed – and the cost of access to that spectrum – means the speed, reach and quality of 5G services could vary dramatically between countries. Early adopter countries will be the first to realise the significant benefits of 5G – from fibre-like mobile broadband speeds and smarter cities to autonomous cars and digitised factories – and stand to reap important socio-economic benefits including GDP growth. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that there will be 1.3 billion 5G connections by 2025, but this will be dependent on operators gaining access to sufficient spectrum.

“Operators urgently need more spectrum to deliver the endless array of services that 5G will enable – our 5G future depends heavily on the decisions governments are making in the next year as we head into WRC-19,” said Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA. “Without strong government support to allocate sufficient spectrum to next generation mobile services, it will be impossible to achieve the global scale that will make 5G affordable and accessible for everyone. There is a real opportunity for innovation from 5G, but this hinges on governments focusing on making enough spectrum available, not maximising auction revenues for short term gains.”

The GSMA outlines several key considerations for governments and regulators, including:

  1. 5G needs wider frequency bands to support higher speeds and larger amounts of traffic. Regulators that make available 80-100 MHz of spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (e.g. 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in vital millimetre wave bands (i.e., above 24 GHz), will best support the very fastest 5G services.
  2. 5G needs spectrum within three key frequency ranges to deliver widespread coverage and support all use cases:
  • Sub-1GHz spectrum to extend high-speed 5G mobile broadband coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas and to help support Internet of Things (IoT) services
  • Spectrum from 1-6 GHz to offer a good mix of coverage and capacity for 5G services
  • Spectrum above 6 GHz for 5G services such as ultra-high-speed mobile broadband
  1. It is essential that governments support the 26 GHz, 40 GHz (37-43.5 GHz) and 66-71 GHz bands for mobile at WRC-19. A sufficient amount of harmonised 5G spectrum in these bands is critical to enabling the fastest 5G speeds, low-cost devices and international roaming and to minimising cross-border interference.
  2. Governments and regulators should avoid inflating 5G spectrum prices (e.g. setting high auction reserve prices) as they risk limiting network investment and driving up the cost of services.
  3. Regulators should avoid setting aside spectrum for verticals in key mobile spectrum bands; sharing approaches, such as leasing, are better options where vertical industries require access to spectrum.

“Governments and regulators have a major role to play in ensuring that consumers get the best outcome from 5G,” added Tarnutzer. “Once spectrum is allocated to mobile at WRC, licensing that spectrum at a national level, as history has shown, can take up to 10 years. Therefore, it is essential that governments take the right action now,” he asserted.


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