Keeping everyone and everything connected: How temporary access to spectrum can ease congestion during the COVID-19 crisis

During the pandemic, mobile broadband, fixed wireless connections and mobile apps have become the main tools to remain operational and in contact with medical professionals, work colleagues and loved ones. The work of some role model countries can act as inspiration in parts of the world that continue the battle with COVID-19. They also show what policies are needed to help economies bounce back.

During such an unprecedented situation, mobile operators continue to work closely with governments to support the management of the crisis through the provision of mobile services to the public and government. Spectrum resources made available by governments during the crisis contribute to the optimisation of mobile network infrastructure in order to better serve the needs of communities and public services.

Some mechanisms that have been implemented are:

  • Providing short-term/emergency spectrum licences to MNOs to access any portions of unallocated spectrum, renewable depending on national requirements
  • Expediting the issue of short-term/trial licences to MNOs where new technologies may enable operators to assist on delivering or augmenting connectivity and deploying services on an ad-hoc basis
  • Facilitating and expediting access to backhaul spectrum
  • Extending deadlines for any ongoing transitions or renewals for licensees providing high-speed broadband and other critical services
  • Removing red tape and restrictions on ways to immediately access more spectrum, including spectrum sharing

We have seen some impressive examples of governments and mobile operators working together to help manage this unrivalled and rapidly changing situation, including:

  • The United States Federal Communications Commission has granted short-term access to available mobile spectrum in coverage bands (600 and 700 MHz) and capacity bands (1.7-2.2 GHz and 2.5 GHz) to provide additional mobile broadband capacity.
  • The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in Ireland has temporarily released extra radio spectrum in the 700 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands to provide additional capacity for mobile phone and broadband provision and liberalizing the use of 2.1 GHz so that it can be used for 4G and other technologies, rather than just for 3G.
  • Jordan has renewed the already released short-term basis spectrum to MNOs in capacity bands, sub-1 GHz and for fixed wireless access for free.
  • Saudi Arabia has released available spectrum to MNOs in capacity bands, sub-1 GHz on a short-term basis (700 MHz band).
  • Tunisia has made all IMT spectrum tech-neutral on a short-term basis.
  • In Panama, the Regulator (​Autoridad Nacional de los Servicios Públicos) has granted temporary spectrum licenses to MNOs for additional capacity upon request.
  • An agreement between MNOs and Anatel in Brazil shows the agency could have taken and can still take any regulatory action necessary, including with spectrum, to make sure all services remain intact.
  • Ghana’s regulator NCA has granted Vodafone and MTN temporary access to more spectrum for free so they can handle traffic increases.
  • Oman’s regulator TRA has allocated additional mobile spectrum in the 1,800 MHz and 2.1 GHz bands to the Sultanate’s licensed network operators on a temporary basis and at no cost.
  • In Malaysia, regulator MCMC has provided Telekom Malaysia with early access to 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz on a trial basis. The resulting 5G network will provide connectivity at COVID-19 quarantine centres.
  • South Africa’s regulator ICASA has made available the spectrum bands for temporary assignment in the following bands: 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz.
  • DRC’s regulator has positively responded to the GSMA’ request by assigning additional frequencies to the four MNOs for 3 months in order to provide additional capacity.
  • Iraq’s 2G and 3G licences have been renewed for a total of eight years in a tech neutral basis. That’s another three years for free, compared to the country’s original plan.
  • Instead of delaying a planned 5G award, New Zealand’s government decided to enable the early release of the 3.5 GHz range via a direct offer for the reserve price, as opposed to a competitive award.

In addition to providing access to more spectrum, regulators and governments have looked at other ways to promote better connectivity by supporting additional investments. For example, Canada, Romania and South Africa have delayed spectrum annual fee payments.

Currently, mobile operators are sustaining the sudden and significant increase in traffic demand even with the growing vaccination rollout. The GSMA calls for governments to work with the mobile industry to find ways to support the mobile industry’s enormous efforts to keep everyone and everything connected in this increasing time of need. The GSMA also calls on governments to make policy changes that sets up a recovery that fully utilises the power of mobile services.

We will continue to add to this list as more examples of facilitating access to spectrum become available.

The GSMA’s mission is to help governments and regulators manage spectrum in a fair and transparent way to maximise societal benefits. For more information, see