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Study identifies mid-band spectrum 5G potential

September 29, 2022

Three mid-range spectrum bands offer the greatest potential for addressing the spectrum imbalance facing the US commercial wireless industry, according to a new Accenture study commissioned by wireless industry association the CTIA.

The report, Spectrum Allocation in the United States, analyses the current state of radio spectrum allocation, the increasing need for licensed spectrum in the wireless industry and the paths forward to support mobile broadband and 5G network expansion.

“More licensed mid-band spectrum is needed to meet growing wireless network demand,” said Tejas Rao, managing director, Accenture. “Commercial access to the bands described in our study would help scale 5G, giving more people access to consistent and good Internet connectivity needed for things like online schooling, remote work and telemedicine.”

According to the study, the US wireless industry currently has access to 5 per cent of lower mid-band spectrum, while unlicensed spectrum users have access to 7x and government users have access to 12x that amount. The study finds that the following three blocks of lower mid-band spectrum offer the greatest potential for 5G expansion:

  • 350 MHz in the 3.1-4.5 GHz band: The lower 3 GHz band offers reliable coverage and adequate range of coverage, making it ideal for 5G data traffic. This band is adjacent to the recently auctioned 3.45 GHz band, which would help drive lower costs for device manufacturers when developing products for a wider contiguous band.
  • 400 MHz in the 4.4-4.94 GHz band: The mid 4 GHz band is a wide contiguous block of spectrum that provides high capacity for 5G networks. It has been allocated to wireless carriers in many other nations, meaning a similar allocation in the US would support international harmonization efforts yielding cost benefits.
  • 400 MHz in the 7.125-8.4 GHz band: The 7 to 8.4 GHz range is a significant block of higher frequency contiguous spectrum. The capacity characteristics of this range make it ideal for serving densely populated areas such as urban centres, where traffic requirements are greater.

Allocating these three bands for commercial wireless use would result in unlicensed users having access to 1.19x and government users having access to 1.34x the amount of spectrum as commercial wireless users.

“America has the world’s leading 5G networks but with data growth doubling every year we need a pipeline of mid-band spectrum to keep up with demand,” said Meredith Atwell Baker, president and CEO, CTIA. “Mid-band spectrum is key to building 5G networks because of its blend of capacity and range. This study details why balancing government and commercial spectrum access is critical to maintaining and securing our leadership of the emerging 5G economy.”

According to another recent commissioned CTIA report, other countries lead the US with an average of 530 MHz of lower mid-band spectrum available for commercial wireless networks. Without government action, the US is projected to continue to trail by an average of 413 MHz in five years’ time.


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