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Study: Lower 3 GHz band key to US 5G

July 3, 2020

The US needs to expand its 5G spectrum pipeline and license the lower 3 GHz band for commercial use in order to keep pace with other countries that are moving aggressively to make mid-band spectrum available for next-generation 5G networks, according to a new study from advisory firm Analysys Mason.

The study finds that the US has no licensed spectrum today in a key swath of mid-band spectrum from 3.3-3.6 GHz, while other benchmark countries that have made these airwaves available average nearly 200 megahertz. If the US government moved quickly to make the lower 3 GHz band available for commercial 5G operations, the US would become a ‘leading benchmark’ country in this area, according to the firm.

“The FCC is making great progress with the auctions of 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz mid-band spectrum this year. This study shows how crucial it is for the US to replicate that success particularly in the lower 3 GHz range,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, President and CEO of wireless industry trade body the CTIA. “The Administration and the FCC need to develop a meaningful plan to make significant new spectrum resources in the lower 3 GHz band available for commercial use on terms that will allow robust 5G deployments—and quickly.”

Mid-band spectrum is the key to 5G networks because of its blend of capacity and range. A report earlier in 2020 from Analysys Mason showed that the US needs to effectively double its amount of mid-band in order to keep pace with Japan, China, South Korea and other countries.

In the US, the lower 3 GHz band is the only near-term opportunity for additional licensed mid-band spectrum. Internationally, lower 3 GHz spectrum is considered a 5G priority because it allows device and network equipment manufacturers to build to globally harmonised, international specifications, reducing network deployment and consumer costs.

To conduct the study, Analysys Mason looked at the amount of spectrum currently available, as well as the amount being considered for future allocation, in 14 key countries.

Other key findings include:

  • The US is a global leader in low-band spectrum availability. Other countries are moving aggressively in this range, and commercial access to the 1.3 GHz and 1.7 GHz bands will be an important element of continued US low-band leadership.
  • The US leads the world in licensed high-band spectrum. However, other countries, such as China, are also looking to make significant amounts of high-band spectrum available for 5G use.
  • The US has tipped the scales in favour of unlicensed spectrum, making around three times as much spectrum available for unlicensed as for licensed.

“With this study, we wanted to take a longer-term look at potential spectrum availability that other countries are considering,” advised Janette Stewart, a Principal with Analysys Mason and the lead author of the study. “The US is in a very strong position on low- and high-band spectrum, but our work makes clear that mid-band—and the lower 3 GHz range in particular—should remain at the forefront of policymaker efforts.”

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