Vodafone calls on 6GHz spectrum allocation to avoid 5G capacity crunch

Leading European and African operator reveals results of technical trial showing how 5G services in key spectrum band have the potential to achieve comparable coverage levels to current established networks

With national administrations and telecoms industry members gathering in a matter of weeks to review and update the global use of radio frequencies, leading operator Vodafone has reiterated its call for the upper 6GHz spectrum band to be allocated to international mobile telecommunications (IMT) without overly restrictive conditions to ensure a strong 5G mobile infrastructure to drive digital economies.

Vodafone believes enabling this band for mobile use will ensure consumers and businesses receive even faster and more reliable 5G services over the next five to 10 years, while avoiding a mobile capacity crunch caused by soaring demand for bandwidth. The operator said the pressure to free up more spectrum was mounting and that it has seen demand across Europe grow by 30% every year as more devices and services, such as augmented reality headsets, health sensors and vehicles, are connected to 5G. These all require mobile networks with greater processing power and capacity.

Even though opportunities exist to use the upper 6GHz band for Wi-Fi services, Vodafone added that with the lower part already assigned to this technology in many countries and 5G networks facing capacity restrictions before the end of this decade, the company and other mobile network operators strongly believe that allocating the upper section to IMT would be the best outcome for customers, industries and digital societies in general.

“Without a fair and balanced allocation of 6GHz spectrum, mobile users worldwide could face a major capacity crunch within just five years,” said Vodafone chief network officer Alberto Ripepi. “Additional 5G spectrum would boost the digital transformation of businesses and public sector organisations and support the European Commission’s ambition to have fast connectivity within reach of all populated areas by 2030.”

The company’s spectrum call comes just after it announced it had successfully tested future mobile spectrum in the upper 6GHz frequency band. The trial is said to show how the quality of mobile services across both indoor and outdoor areas can be improved with the allocation of new 6GHz spectrum, allowing the industry to future-proof the progress of new services and technologies and the demands they place on the mobile network.

Using a smartphone tuned to the anticipated amount of 6GHz spectrum band that will be made available in European countries, 6GHz equipment was installed on an existing 5G site in Madrid covering Vodafone’s campus and the surrounding area, including several indoor locations.

Massive MIMO antenna technology was used. This technology is already being deployed for 5G networks to beamform signals in the direction of individual users, maximising signal quality and minimising network interference. A 200MHz channel (the anticipated amount of spectrum that would be made available per mobile operator in each European country) was used, approximately double the bandwidth used for 5G services today, enabling higher speeds and capacity for evolved 5G networks.

Vodafone achieved download speeds of up to 5Gbps – approximately double what today’s networks are capable of – and on average 2Gbps across various indoor locations. The operator said the latter achievement was especially important since around 75% of all mobile traffic originates from users at home, in the office, or in enclosed public places.

Indoor coverage was assessed across a range of different types of buildings and at various distances from the antenna. In relatively modern glass-fronted offices, indoor speeds of around 2Gbps were measured, while in other public buildings as far away as 550 metres, speeds of around 0.5Gbps were recorded. Vodafone engineers also looked at outdoor locations completely shadowed by buildings, important in urban areas. In this scenario, a range of similar speeds were achieved, demonstrating that 6GHz can both penetrate building façades and pass through them.

Vodafone said it also demonstrated how the technology has the potential to achieve comparable coverage levels to current 5G networks, highlighting that the band can be readily deployed on existing mobile sites cost-effectively and efficiently, providing a capacity boost when current bandwidth becomes exhausted.

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