5G spectrum harmonization
Licensing of the right spectrum in sufficient amounts is fundamental to build momentum for 5G services.
Significant efforts are still needed to align allocations between countries to secure the right spectrum. This is an urgent matter, as 5G networks are already being deployed in new frequency bands. Alignment is crucial for the economics of the emerging 5G ecosystem, as it directly affects costs of devices and infrastructure.
Mobile data traffic is projected to increase by around five times over the next six years.
Advanced 5G services are expected to provide significantly higher peak data rates and capacity at very high quality, requiring spectrum resources to be allocated in very wide bandwidths. Aggregate bandwidth of 10GHz to 15GHz or more (implemented over time) will need to be allocated, requiring gigahertz-wide channel blocks in bands in the 24.25GHz to 86GHz range. Resolving the coverage-capacity challenge also requires access to spectrum resources in both the mid- and low bands.
As radio wave propagation properties differ by spectrum band, it will be important to secure a combination of bands to meet the coverage, quality and capacity requirements. There are a number of bands already in use by service providers for earlier access technology generations that are expected to be shared with 5G. In general, all current 3GPP bands including low and mid-bands are being considered for 5G services now or in the future.
Combinations of these bands will be central to delivering 5G coverage and capacity for enhanced mobile broadband, IoT, industrial automation and missioncritical business cases, as well as for Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) services.
Low bands provide favorable radio wave propagation characteristics – useful for coverage in remote areas and into buildings.
Between 1GHz and 6GHz
Mid-bands are particularly beneficial as they offer a favorable “middle ground” between propagation characteristics (coverage) and bandwidth (capacity). Mid-bands within the 3.3GHz to 5GHz range should be made available in 2019 to 2020.
From 24.25GHz to 86GHz
High bands have wide bandwidths essential to serve rapidly growing traffic demands. The high bands expected to be deployed early for 5G include the 26GHz, 28GHz, 37GHz and 39GHz bands.
For 5G services to meet the demands on data speeds and capacities, ITU member states will need to agree on enough spectrum bandwidth in the right bands with the right conditions. (Conditions include requirements of use within a specific frequency band, e.g. the radio signal characteristics.)
At WRC-19 (November 2019) the member states of the ITU are expected to agree on new 5G spectrum allocations within the high bands (agenda item 1.13 concerning the 24.25GHz to 86GHz range). These are often referred to as the “millimeter wave” (mmWave) bands and are central to supporting a wide range of new industry applications using 5G New Radio (NR) technology specified by the 3GPP industry organization. 3GPP is also studying the use of the 6.5GHz band (5925MHz to 7125MHz) for 5G services.
Many countries have taken actions to allocate certain bands – both before WRC-19 and outside the scope of the WRC-19 agenda item 1.13. They are taking steps toward commercial 5G NR, focusing on 26.5GHz to 29.5GHz (the 28GHz band). This has allowed for quicker deployments of 5G services but also requires dedicated efforts to harmonize the allocations between those countries.
- In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted regulations governing mobile use in the 28GHz range (suggesting that satellite use will be secondary). The 37GHz and 39GHz bands are also being prepared for early use.
- South Korea has carried out a successful pre-commercial 5G trial using the range 26.5GHz to 29.5GHz during the Pyeongchang 2018 winter sports event. This activity was followed by a spectrum auction and commercial deployment by all service providers using the 28GHz band.
- Japan will be deploying commercial 5G networks well before the 2020 summer sports event in Tokyo. In addition, large-scale pre-commercial field trials are taking place within the 3.7GHz, 4.5GHz and 28GHz frequency ranges.
- Regulators in Europe and China aim to deploy commercial 5G networks in the 26GHz range by 2020. In addition, they have expressed interest in subsequent deployments in the 42GHz range.
- India is considering the range 24.5GHz to 29.5GHz (26GHz and 28 GHz) for commercial 5G networks, as well as the bands 37GHz, 39GHz and 42GHz.
A number of countries are considering awarding (or enabling service providers to lease) spectrum for local use. Countries wishing to make spectrum available to entities on a more local basis could limit those allocations to real-estate defined areas, such as factories. This is a national decision and it is still unclear if and how countries will realize possible allocations for private mobile networks.
To realize the full potential of early terrestrial 5G network deployments and meet growing demands on network performance, significant efforts are required worldwide to reassign spectrum from underutilized applications to 5G services. This process will be most beneficial to service providers, industries and consumers if:
- enough bandwidth to meet 5G access performance demands is awarded
- appropriate regulatory conditions for spectrum use and coexistence are applied
- internationally harmonized high-band arrangements are applied
National licensing of the right spectrum, in sufficient amounts, to terrestrial mobile broadband providers is fundamental to initiate and build momentum for 5G service deployments to support society, national markets and consumers.
Note: Update of an article published in Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2018