Getting spectrum right, sets the stage for great 5G

The first commercial 5G services are already here and the coming years will see launches all over the world. The integration of the technology into our lives and work has the potential to impact communities and economies even more than previous generations.

But not all 5G networks are created equal; their performance is heavily reliant on the amount of spectrum made available by regulators and governments. To build the best possible 5G networks, access to millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum is needed. The use of this range in mobile networks is a chance to offer performance levels that haven’t been possible before. In the process, services and applications in areas such as fixed broadband, industrial automation, intelligent transport systems and virtual reality can take advantage of the performance improvements offered by millimetre waves.

A new report from the GSMA, “The Socio-Economic Benefits of mmWave 5G (2023-2034)”,  looks at the impact of mmWave 5G across industries and continents. It details the benefits mmWave 5G is predicted to help realise over a 15-year period from 2020 to 2034. By the end of this period, $565 billion in global GDP and $152 billion in tax revenue is estimated to be realised from 5G services that have been made possible thanks to mmWave spectrum. That equals 25 per cent of the overall value created by 5G, an amount that countries which choose to ignore this opportunity risk missing out on.

The Asia-Pacific and Americas regions are expected to generate the greatest share of the total contribution of 5G enabled by mmWaves to the GDP, $212 billion and $190 billion, respectively. Europe has the highest percentage of GDP growth of any region with 2.9 percent. Also, the annual gain will grow much faster in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa from 2026, closing the gap between the early adopters and countries where networks are launched at a later stage. This is possible because they can take advantage of a more mature ecosystem, in terms of availability of equipment, deployment costs, and business case viability.

Behind these numbers, a whole new world is opening up. Mobile broadband can be offered at fibre-like speeds to homes, offices and public spaces. Also, widespread implementation of industrial automation, especially processes requiring a high degree of precision, benefit from the low latency associated with mmW spectrum. Given the latency and peak data rate requirements, mmWaves are expected to play an important role in the mass adoption of virtual reality, as well.

This is, in turn, expected to open the door for more advanced healthcare and education; reduced pollution and increased efficiency in transportation; and enhanced public safety response capabilities.

None of these use cases will reach their full potential without access to this spectrum.

The availability of mmWave spectrum is dependent on what happens at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2019. WRCs are held every three or four years, and are organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The organisation is the United Nations’ specialised agency for information and communication technologies. Its members include 193 countries and almost 800 private-sector companies and academic institutions.

Country backing for the mobile industry is needed during the whole process since they make the final decisions. At WRC-19, they can help make the most of 5G’s potential. To make this happen, the GSMA recommends supporting the 26 GHz, 40 GHz and 66-71 GHz bands for mobile identification.

In addition to these bands, 28 GHz is a key band for realising the ultra-high-speed vision for 5G. Commercial services using the band have already been launched in the US. It will be used for mmW 5G in countries such as South Korea, Japan, India and Canada, as well.

However, just making the bands available to mobile operators isn’t enough. Outside of the WRC, national regulators will have to make critical decisions about the technical conditions, the timing of the release and what access to new spectrum should cost, if anything.

The mobile industry has a history of maximising the positive socio-economic impact of its spectrum resources. There are almost 9 billion mobile connections and over 5 billion unique subscribers. This has been possible thanks to a fruitful collaboration with governments and regulators. The arrival of 5G offers the opportunity to build on this success and usher in something even greater.