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GSMA calls for 2GHz of mid-band spectrum to meet UN targets

Starting from the position that meeting mid-band spectrum needs is vital to the future of 5G and requires forward-planning from policy-makers, mobile industry trade association warns that without additional spectrum, it will be impossible to realise the full potential of 5G in some cases

Mid-band spectrum is seen as the sweet spot of next-generation communications, but the GSMA has warned that the industry will need an average of 2GHz of this decade to meet the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data speed requirements.

In its Vision 2030 – insights for mid-band report – based on a global study of the state of frequency allocation in 36 cities undertaken by Coleago Consulting – the GSMA said policy-makers should license spectrum to mobile operators in harmonised bands, such as 3.5GHz, 4.8GHz and 6GHz, to meet the ITU’s requirements by 2030. Without the additional spectrum, it warned, it would be impossible to realise the full potential of 5G in some cases.

Essentially, the report noted that the added mid-band spectrum would make 5G more affordable and that spectrum availability would enhance fixed wireless access (FWA). The study showed that the additional 2GHz would mean five times more households could be covered, with each base station allowing affordable high-speed internet to reach beyond the footprint of fibre networks at a fraction of the cost.

The report added that access to such spectrum would ensure mobile operators could deliver the ITU targets of 100Mbps download speeds and 50Mbps upload speeds to meet the future needs of consumers and businesses.

Moreover, such spectrum would allow commercial mobile operators to support the needs of a wide variety of use cases from vertical sectors, each with multiple different requirements, such as low latency, high throughput, long battery life, localised coverage and wide area coverage. However, the GSMA emphasised that these differing requirements needed different spectrum and network resources, pointing out that mobile network operators were well placed to support such diverse requirements due to their expertise and wider spectrum assets.

Gaining adequate spectrum would also minimise the environmental impact and lower consumer costs of 5G, said the GSMA. The additional spectrum could lower the carbon footprint of networks by two to three times while enhancing the sustainable development of mobile connectivity. It calculated that without the added spectrum, total costs would be three to five times higher over a decade in cities where a deficit of 800-1,000MHz would increase the number of base stations needed and increase deployment costs in each city by between $782m and $5.8bn. In some cases, the additional number of antennas and base stations needed could lead to higher carbon emissions and consumer prices.

In a call to action, the GSMA is asking that regulators plan to make an average of 2GHz of mid-band spectrum available in the 2025-2030 timeframe to guarantee the ITU’s IMT-2020 requirements for 5G. It asks that they carefully consider 5G spectrum demands when 5G use increases and advanced use cases will carry additional needs such as making base spectrum decisions on real-world factors, including population density and extent of fibre roll-out; support for harmonised mid-band 5G spectrum (within the 3.5GHz, 4.8GHz and 6GHz ranges); and facilitate technology upgrades in existing bands.

“An additional 1-2GHz of spectrum will be required in Europe before the end of the decade. This new spectrum in mid-bands will be needed to address new consumer take-up and usage,” commented Massimiliano Simoni, chairman of the spectrum strategy management group at the GSMA.

“Licensed spectrum remains essential to guarantee the long-term heavy network investment needed for 5G and to deliver a high quality of service. Right now, we have some concerns, especially on the mid-bands, where we see a risk of ending up without any new spectrum identified for IMT [international mobile
telecommunications], and this would create a hole in the infrastructure that we plan to put in place.”

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