Spectrum Management and Licensing

Spectrum Management and Licensing

Mobile networks must continue to evolve to close the connectivity gap, respond to skyrocketing data traffic growth and deliver on the immense potential of the nascent Internet of Things industry. All of these elements will also be key pillars of the 5G mobile future.

To support this evolution, mobile operators need access to sufficient, internationally harmonised spectrum. Effective spectrum licensing plays a key role in providing operators with access to this necessary resource.
Everything starts with solid planning. To encourage substantial investment in mobile services, it is important to have transparent, long-term broadband plan that includes a strategy for making sufficient amounts of spectrum available to the mobile industry. This creates a certainty that allows the industry to innovate and thrive.

Spectrum pricing also has a significant impact on investment, and ultimately on mobile services. Governments that seek to maximise state revenues from spectrum pricing, for example, risk much greater costs to society if competition in communications markets is undermined with the result that network investment is stifled.

Instead, to ensure widespread, high-quality affordable services, it is essential that a sufficient amount of spectrum is released for mobile use — especially Digital Dividend spectrum — with fair access prices.
With the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) on the horizon, governments should build upon the foundations of previous conferences to identify sufficient mobile spectrum to support the future of the digital society.

The work centred around Agenda Item 1.13 looks at spectrum for mobile broadband in frequencies between 24.25 GHz and 86 GHz. The successful identification of a significant amount of these frequencies for international mobile telecommunication (IMT) is vital to realise 5G’s full potential.

The GSMA is very active at national, regional and global levels in advocating for the timely identification and release of more spectrum for mobile broadband.

5G Spectrum


5G will support significantly faster mobile broadband speeds and heavier data usage than previous generations of mobile technology while also enabling the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). From autonomous cars and smart cities to the industrial internet and fibre-over-the-air, 5G will be at the heart of the future of communications. 5G is also essential for preserving the future of today’s most popular mobile applications — such as on-demand video — by ensuring that growing uptake and usage can be sustained.

The technology will address four key usage scenarios:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband, including multi-gigabit per second (Gbps) data rates.
  • Ultra-reliable communications, including very low latency (sub-1 ms), very high availability and very high security.
  • Massive machine-type communications, including the ability to support a huge number of low-cost IoT connections.
  • Fixed-wireless access, including the ability to offer fibre-type speeds in both developed and developing markets.

The success of 5G services will be heavily reliant on national governments and regulators. Most notably, the speed, reach and quality of these services will depend on governments and regulators supporting timely access to the right amount and type of spectrum, under the right conditions. Spectrum awards for 5G have already begun and the variation in the amount of spectrum assigned, as well as the prices paid, means the potential of 5G services will vary between countries. This is because these factors impact the quality and capacity of 5G services and ultimately the competitiveness of national digital economies.


How much spectrum do regulators need to make available in key bands to support high-quality 5G services?

Should regulators aim to maximise state revenues or socio-economic benefits when assigning 5G spectrum?

What role could unlicensed and shared spectrum play within 5G?

Industry Position

5G needs a significant amount of new harmonised mobile spectrum. Regulators should aim to make available 80-100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (e.g., 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in millimetre wave bands (i.e., above 24 GHz).

5G needs sufficient spectrum in three key frequency ranges to deliver on prime 5G usage cases:

Sub-1 GHz will support widespread coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas and help support IoT services.

1-6 GHz offers a good mixture of coverage and capacity benefits and includes spectrum within the 3.3-3.8 GHz range, which is expected to form the basis of many initial 5G services.

Above 6 GHz is needed for the ultra-high broadband speeds envisioned for 5G. Currently, the 26 GHz and/or 28 GHz bands have the most international support in this range. Establishing international agreement on 5G bands above 24 GHz will be a key focus of the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19).

WRC-19 will be vital to realise the ultra-high-speed vision for 5G, so government support for the mobile industry throughout the process is vital. The GSMA recommends the 26 GHz, 40 GHz and 66-71 GHz bands are supported for mobile, and that the 45.5-52.6 GHz range is studied in more detail.

Licensed spectrum should remain the core 5G spectrum management model. Unlicensed bands can play a complementary role.

Setting spectrum aside for vertical markets in priority 5G bands could jeopardise the success of public 5G services and may waste spectrum. Sharing approaches, such as leasing, are better options where vertical markets require access to spectrum.

Governments and regulators should avoid inflating 5G spectrum prices (e.g., through excessive reserve prices or annual fees) as they risk limiting network investment and driving up the cost of services.

Regulators must consult 5G stakeholders to ensure spectrum awards and licensing approaches consider technical and commercial deployment plans.

Governments and regulators need to adopt national spectrum policy measures to encourage long-term heavy investments in 5G networks (e.g., long-term licences, clear renewal processes, spectrum roadmaps, etc.).


GSMA Public Policy Position: 5G Spectrum
GSMA Future Networks 5G website
GSMA Report: The 5G Era – Age of Boundless Connectivity and Intelligent Automation
Spectrum Management and Licensing

Core Mobile Bands

Core frequency bands for mobile broadband

Not all radio frequencies are equal, and mobile network operators require access to a range of frequency bands to support affordable, high-quality mobile broadband services with excellent coverage. The core harmonised bands for mobile roughly fall within the frequency range of 400 MHz to 5 GHz, with the lower range providing large coverage areas and the higher range providing higher capacity.

The frequency bands utilised in mobile networks today have been designated for mobile services internationally through ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) and harmonised on either a regional or global basis. They are then standardised by 3GPP before commercial deployment. The most frequently deployed current bands are listed below. Although countries in different regions have adopted different combinations of those bands, regional and global harmonisation has created economies of scale, which in turn have made mobile services and handsets more affordable.

Effects of frequency on range and coverage area

In general, a network that uses higher-frequency spectrum requires more base stations to cover the same area as a network using lower frequencies.


Band Characteristics: Capacity vs. Coverage

In general, lower-frequency signals below 1 GHz reach further and are better at penetrating buildings. These frequencies are sometimes called coverage bands because an operator can serve a larger area with one base station. These bands are particularly important for providing affordable mobile broadband services in rural areas.

The capacity of a wireless connection for data or voice calls is dependent on the amount of spectrum it uses — the channel bandwidth — and wider channel bandwidths are more readily available at higher frequencies, for example at 1.8 GHz and above. These frequencies are often referred to as capacity bands. Deploying a network that uses these higher-frequency bands requires more base stations to cover the same area, thereby requiring more investment. However, these bands can support more mobile broadband traffic and higher speeds, making them effective in more densely populated areas.

It isn’t an either/or proposal, however. A single mobile handset today can support a variety of bands, and indeed, mobile operators use a combination of different bands to provide good coverage and high data speeds. For future services, operators are looking at even higher bands, those above 6 GHz, to support data-intensive mobile applications.


Digital Dividend


The Digital Dividend is the spectrum made available for alternative uses following the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television, as digital broadcasting uses spectrum far more efficiently than analogue broadcasting.

Digital Dividend spectrum is ideal for mobile broadband because it consists of lower-frequency bands that can cover wider areas with fewer base stations than current mobile broadband spectrum which relies on higher frequencies. This lowers deployment costs and allows operators to provide broader, more affordable coverage, especially in rural areas.

Digital Dividend spectrum also delivers benefits in urban areas, as it supports improved indoor coverage, because these frequencies can more easily penetrate buildings.

The initial upgrade to digital television created two potential new mobile bands. They are the 800 MHz band for use in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the 700 MHz band (698–806 MHz) — also known as APT 700 — for use in the Americas and the Asia Pacific region.

More recently, a second phase opens the door for two further mobile bands. The first one is 700 MHz (this time 694-790 MHz) for use in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The second is 600 MHz in parts of the Americas and Asia Pacific, such as Bangladesh, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States.


What goals should governments try to achieve when relicensing Digital Dividend bands?
How important is spectrum harmonisation when planning for the Digital Dividend?


GSMA Public Policy Position: Securing the Digital Dividend for Mobile Broadband
GSMA Public Policy Position: Recommended Band Plan for Digital Dividend 2 in ITU Region 1
GSMA Public Policy Position: Asia Pacific Digital Dividend/UHF band plans
GSMA & AHCIET Report: Economic Benefits of the Digital Dividend for Latin America
GSMA & BCC Report: The Economic Benefits of Early Harmonisation of the Digital Dividend Spectrum and the Cost of Fragmentation in Asia-Pacific

Industry Position

The Digital Dividend should be allocated for mobile use in alignment with regionally harmonised band plans as soon as possible.

The switchover to digital television supports the delivery of a wide variety of high-definition broadcast content, while also improving the provision of mobile broadband services. Licensing as much Digital Dividend spectrum as possible for mobile use is key if governments are to give their citizens access to affordable, high-quality, mobile broadband services.

Governments should not seek to generate excessive fees from licensing these bands, as this can lead to spectrum remaining unsold and risks impacting network investment and deployment, while also potentially leading to higher mobile phone bills. Ultimately, excessive spectrum fees have the potential to limit the socio-economic benefits that affordable mobile broadband access can deliver.

Regional harmonisation of the bands will maximise economies of scale for equipment manufacturers (helping to drive down the cost of handsets for consumers) and mitigate interference along national borders. For these reasons:

  • Asia Pacific and Latin America should adopt the APT 700 MHz band plan.
  • Europe, the Middle East and Africa should adopt the ITU Region 1 700 MHz band, which is compatible with APT 700 MHz equipment.
  • Countries from ITU Region 2 and 3 (US, Mexico, New Zealand, etc.) are converging on the same 600 MHz FDD band plan, and this is laying an important foundation towards global harmonisation of the band.
Facts and Figures

Releasing Digital Dividend Spectrum for Mobile

This map shows individual countries' progress in licensing Digital Dividend spectrum for mobile telecommunications.


Source: GSMA Intelligence, November 2017

Limiting Interference


Radio transmissions always have the potential to interfere with radio systems operating in adjacent frequency bands, due to transmitter imperfections or imperfect receiver filtering.

New technologies are better at mitigating interference, although they can be more costly because of equipment complexity and energy consumption.

The solution is to define radio transmitter and receiver parameters to ensure compatibility between radio systems operating in the same or adjacent frequency bands. This approach cannot, however, be applied to technologies that lack standards.

The traditional way to manage interference has been to establish guard bands that are left vacant. However, these guard bands reduce the overall efficiency of spectrum use. Other interference-mitigation techniques should be employed as much as possible to minimise the loss of usable spectrum.


Are guard bands the only way to prevent interference between mobile bands and systems using adjacent bands?

Should potential interference be solved ex-ante by the national regulatory authority before allocating new spectrum to mobile operators, or should this be left to the operators?

Industry Position

Interference can be managed with proper planning and mitigation techniques.

For mobile telecommunications, regional harmonisation of allocated mobile bands is the best way to avoid interference along national borders.

Issues of cross-border interference are usually addressed through bilateral or multilateral agreements among neighbouring countries.

To minimise guard-band size and the cost of interference mitigation, radio system standards defining the RF performance of transmitters and receivers are necessary.

Broadcasters are rightly concerned that mobile services introduced in the UHF band do not interfere with television reception, and mobile operators are equally concerned that this does not happen. A television receiver standard would improve the situation


GSMA Reference Document: Managing Radio Interference
GSMA Briefing Paper: WRC Agenda Item 1.17 — Broadcast Interference
GSMA Reference Document: Potential for Interference to Electronics

The more countries that support a band, the greater the possibility for global harmonisation, offering substantial economies of scale, reducing interference along country borders and delivering cost benefits for consumers.

Case Study

Real-World Experience of 800 MHz LTE Coexistence

Because Digital Dividend spectrum is, by definition, adjacent to frequency bands that continue to be used for television broadcasting, regulators and industry have worked hard to ensure that mobile services using the 800 MHz Digital Dividend band do not interfere with television broadcasting. Nevertheless, concerns continue to be aired in most markets until the actual roll out of the mobile services. Now that mobile network operators in several countries have begun to deploy LTE networks using Digital Dividend spectrum, these concerns can largely be put to rest.

In Germany, as of October 2012, more than 4,600 800 MHz base station sites had been deployed, in urban, suburban and rural areas. Reported incidents of interference were very low. Six cases of interference with digital terrestrial television were reported, and this includes the most critical case, involving the lower block of LTE spectrum and TV channel 60, which O2 rolled out in Nuremburg in July 2012. In addition, 22 cases involved wireless microphones (which had already been asked to migrate to other frequencies by the regulator), and six involved other radio services and applications.

In Sweden, hundreds of 800 MHz base station sites have been deployed, with the first-line response for reported interference managed jointly by the mobile operators. During the first quarter of 2012, approximately 40 cases of interference with the television bands were reported, of which 30 were quickly resolved by supplying the viewers with a television receiver filter.

Globally, up to now, there have been fewer cases of interference with digital terrestrial television by mobile services in the 800 MHz band than forecast. However, the incidence rate may vary depending on the proportion of the population that uses the digital television platform and the digital television network topology. Radio frequency (RF) amplifiers are a more significant factor than anticipated, but RF filters can solve the majority of interference cases.

So far, there has been no interference to cable networks.

Source: Vodafone

at800 in the United Kingdom

In 2012, mobile operator licensees in the UK set up a joint venture called at800 to act as the mechanism for resolving television interference issues when LTE services were launched in the 800 MHz band.

The four mobile operators are shareholders, and each had to contribute £30 million per 5 MHz lot acquired. at800 was then responsible for collecting information about each operator’s LTE800 roll out plans and arranging a leafleting campaign in the affected areas, giving details of how householders could report interference issues. at800 manages the call centre, posts filters to consumers and sends engineers to fix any remaining problems. Any funds remaining after the completion of the programme will be divided among the shareholders. In practice, it has become apparent that the scale of interference was greatly overestimated.

As of November 2016, at800 had achieved a 99 per cent or 100 per cent pass rate against all KPIs for its twelfth consecutive month. All 549 confirmed 4G interference cases in November 2016 were resolved within the 10-working-day target, as they had predominately been every month in the previous year. For disruption that is not related to LTE at 800 MHz, at800 directs viewers to organisations that may be able to help.


Spectrum Auctions


Spectrum management for mobile telecommunications is increasingly complex as governments release new spectrum in existing mobile bands, manage the renewal of licences coming to the end of their initial term, and release spectrum in new bands for mobile broadband services.

Effective and efficient management of these processes is central to the continued investment in, and development of, mobile services.

Auctions are an efficient way to allocate spectrum when there is competition for scarce spectrum resources and demand is expected to exceed supply. However, they need to be carefully planned if they are to lead to successful outcomes. In-demand Digital Dividend spectrum — which is the key to extending affordable mobile broadband services — has gone unsold in several developing markets because governments have set excessively high reserve prices. 1

There are a number of different possible auction designs, each with its strengths and limitations. While multi-round auctions are often preferred, the best choice is dependent on the market circumstances and the objectives of the government and regulators.

When assigning spectrum via an auction, governments typically have a number of goals to achieve, which may include:

  • The maximum long-term value to the economy and society from the use of the spectrum.
  • Efficient technical implementation of services.
  • Sufficient investment to roll out networks and new services.
  • Revenue generation for the government.
  • Adequate market competition.
  • A fair and transparent allocation process.



How is the value of spectrum best determined?
Should governments design auctions to maximise revenue in the short term, or to ensure an economically efficient means of allocating a scarce resource?


GSMA & CEG Report: Best Practice in Mobile Spectrum Licensing
GSMA & NERA Report: Effective Spectrum Pricing: Supporting Better Quality and More Affordable Mobile Services
GSMA Report: Spectrum Pricing in Developing Countries — Evidence to Support Better and More Affordable Mobile Services
GSMA Public Policy Position: Spectrum Auctions
GSMA Managing Spectrum website

Countries that get their licensing approach right can better realise the potential of mobile broadband, bringing substantial benefits to consumers and businesses in terms of innovative, high-quality services and lower costs of provision.
— Competition Economists Group, 2016

Industry Position

Efficient allocation of spectrum is necessary to realise the full economic and societal value of mobile.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ design for spectrum auctions. Each auction needs to be designed to meet the market circumstances and to achieve the specific objectives set by government.

As with most auction design elements, the appropriateness of simultaneous auctions (multiple bands being auctioned together) versus sequential auctions (bands being auctioned one after the other) is dependent on specific market conditions. The effectiveness of either approach will be dependent on a clear spectrum road map with well-defined rights and conditions understood in advance.

Regulators should work with stakeholders to ensure the auction design is fair, transparent and appropriate for the specific market circumstances. Auctions are not the only option available to governments to manage spectrum allocation and should only be used in appropriate circumstances.

Auctions should be designed to maximise the long-term economic and social benefits that can be gained from use of the spectrum. They should not be designed to maximise short-term revenue for governments. The following key principles can help guide licensing authorities:

⦁ Auctions can deliver strong social benefits as long as they are properly designed.
⦁ High spectrum prices jeopardise the effective delivery of wireless services.
⦁ Spectrum licences should be technology and service neutral.
⦁ Licence conditions should be used with caution.
⦁ Licence duration should be at least 20 years to incentivise network investment.
⦁ Competition can be supported by licensing as much spectrum as possible and limiting charges and other barriers to services.
⦁ Voluntary spectrum trading should be encouraged to promote efficient spectrum use.

1. In 2016 alone, part or all of the Digital Dividend mobile spectrum went unsold in Ghana, Senegal and India.

Case Study

Rising Spectrum Prices Harming Consumers and the Digital Economy

Globally, spectrum prices reached all-time highs with the 3G auctions at the start of the millennium, before falling gradually until 2007. From 2008-2016, when 4G auctions became common, the average final price paid for spectrum sold at auction increased 3.5 fold.1 A key factor behind this significant rise was a number of outlier auctions where final prices were extremely high.

High spectrum prices are associated with more expensive, lower-quality mobile broadband services and irrecoverable losses in consumer welfare worth billions of dollars worldwide.2 Research shows that when prices are too high, operators are likely to invest less in their networks — which impacts the quality and reach of services. Operators are also less able to engage in price competition leading to more expensive mobile broadband services for consumers. Consumer losses from more expensive services also significantly outweigh the increased treasury revenues from higher spectrum prices.

The cause of these extremely high prices are typically policy factors that appear to prioritise maximising short-term state revenues above long-term support for the digital economy through improved mobile services. Policy factors include setting excessive reserve prices, making insufficient spectrum available for auction, as well as a lack of clarity on future releases or the process of renewing expiring licences. Such factors can create uncertainty, artificial scarcity of spectrum and encourage excessive bidding above operators’ true valuations of the licences on offer.

Spectrum is a valuable state asset and governments have the option to use it to raise revenues to fund vital state activities. However, the primary goal in all awards should be to encourage the most efficient use of spectrum through investment in widespread, high-quality networks. Many countries around the world successfully strike the right balance between raising revenues and delivering efficient spectrum awards. To do this, the GSMA recommends that governments and regulators:

1. Set modest reserve prices and annual fees, and rely on the market to set prices.

2. License spectrum as soon as it is needed, so as to avoid artificial spectrum scarcity.

3. Avoid measures which increase risks for operators, forcing them to overbid for spectrum.

4. Publish long-term spectrum award plans that prioritise welfare benefits over state revenues.

India: Enough Spectrum Made Available but Hooked on High Reserve Prices

In a 2015 auction, the main Indian carriers had competed intensely to retain their existing spectrum holdings. However, when fresh spectrum was made available in a 2016 auction across the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz bands, they were not forced to compete as fiercely. Nevertheless, the TRAI set the reserve price for 700 MHz, in particular, at an extremely high level, having based it on 1800 MHz prices achieved in the hotly contested 2015 auction (700 MHz price being four times 1800 MHz). As a result, the final revenues from the auction were less than anticipated — only $9.9 billion of total revenues as opposed to $85 billion of total reserve prices. There were no bids for the 700 MHz band and bids for 850 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2500 MHz spectrum were also very limited, with many blocks in several circles unsold. The entire 2300 MHz spectrum was sold and 80 per cent of 1800 MHz spectrum that was put up for auction was also sold.

Thailand: Expensive Rationed Spectrum Hampers Investment

In 2015, Thailand auctioned 1800 MHz spectrum in November, followed by 900 MHz spectrum in December. The winning bids in the December auction were almost six times the reserve price for the 900 MHz spectrum and more than double the final proceedings for the 1800 MHz spectrum auction. In total, the auction of just 100 MHz of spectrum raised THB232.73 billion (US$6.52 billion), making the winning bids among the highest in the world on a per-MHz per-capita basis. The Thailand auctions demonstrate what can happen in markets where spectrum is artificially rationed and there is no clear roadmap for its release. Although the auctions raised huge funds for the Thai government, they have dramatically reduced the Thai operators’ ability to invest in their networks and services. This is likely to hold back the development of Thailand’s digital economy and the country runs the risk of falling behind other countries in South East Asia.

In the words of Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA, “Acquiring spectrum is only the first step before making the necessary investment in network deployment to deliver mobile services to consumers. Unreasonably high reserve prices lead to spectrum remaining unsold, delays in the delivery of mobile services and, ultimately, an increase in consumer tariffs.”

1 GSMA & NERA Economic Consulting Report: Effective Spectrum Pricing — Supporting Better Quality and More Affordable Mobile Services, 2017
1 Ibid NERA, 2017

Spectrum for Drones (UAVs)


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are commonly known, have the potential to deliver profound socio-economic benefits. These range from transforming how businesses deliver their products to supporting life-saving services such as drug delivery in remote areas. However, this is all contingent on effective UAV authentication, monitoring and connectivity.

In Europe alone there are expected to be over 400,000 commercial and government UAVs by 2050.1 Current aeronautical communication systems are not designed to manage such a huge new fleet of vehicles, nor can they enable them to operate effectively in built-up urban areas and support high-bandwidth traffic such as streaming video.

Mobile networks already provide wide area broadband connectivity and sim cards are a trusted authentication mechanism. Trials have shown that terrestrial mobile networks are able to safely support UAV connectivity at altitudes of at least 400 feet.2 Mobile networks can also provide the connectivity to support an air traffic management system for UAVs, as well as enabling no-fly zones and issuing commands such as flight path updates.

But these significant benefits can only be realised if regulators remove barriers in the way of using of mobile networks to support UAVs — most notably those associated with the use of licensed mobile spectrum.

  • 1 SESAR, European UAVs Outlook Study, 2016
    2 Several trials have taken place including those held by Nokia and Qualcomm


  • Should regulators permit licensed mobile spectrum to be used for UAV connectivity?


GSMA Drones website
GSMA Public Policy Position: Mobile spectrum for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Qualcomm Technologies: LTE drone trial results
SESAR Report: European Drones Outlook Study

Industry Position

Licensed mobile spectrum enables widespread, high-quality connectivity for UAVs with sufficient capacity to support competitive services and rising usage levels.

Mobile services in licensed bands are well established worldwide in mature networks, so could be used to support UAV connectivity today if permitted by regulators. Mobile operators typically have exclusive access to coverage spectrum (i.e., below 1 GHz) to reliably cover very wide areas and capacity spectrum (i.e., above 1 GHz bands) which supports very fast data speeds. Taken together this means operators can support very safe, reliable, wide-area broadband connectivity for UAV.

Another benefit of licensed mobile spectrum is that it can support affordable UAV connectivity worldwide. Mobile spectrum bands are often harmonised regionally or globally, so economies of scale already exist to support affordable radio equipment for UAVs.

It is therefore essential that there are no unnecessary barriers to using licensed mobile spectrum for UAV connectivity. Restrictions could damage the significant benefits cellular connectivity delivers. This could happen, for example, if regulators decide that mobile spectrum licences may not be used to provide connectivity to devices that are ‘off the ground’. Similarly, if regulators choose to classify mobile services for UAVs as an ‘aeronautical mobile service’ then the bands mobile operators can use may be restricted. This would adversely affect the coverage and capacity of the resulting LTE services, as well as competition in markets to provide such services.

It is not clear that any such restrictions on the use of mobile spectrum would be justified given there is no evidence that mobile-connected UAVs present interference concerns to other wireless services.

Regulators should also adopt a service and technology neutral framework to fully support UAVs. It is essential that governments provide a regulatory framework for licensed spectrum that facilitates the development and growth of UAV connectivity, and does not impose service or technological restrictions that hold back innovation. Operators should not be prevented from deploying any mobile technology in their spectrum to support UAVs. Spectrum licences which are technology specific may limit the ability to provide high-speed data connectivity for UAVs (e.g., 3G or 4G), or new IoT-specific cellular technologies that could provide simple narrow-band authentication and identification (e.g., NB-IoT or LTE-M).

Spectrum for IoT


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hugely important and rapidly growing market with the potential to transform the digital economy. Mobile services play an important role in the wide-area IoT market and are evolving to meet a growing array of different requirements. For example, the key markets for mobile IoT solutions include the utility, medical, automotive and retail sectors. This is in addition to current consumer electronics devices, including e-book readers, GPS navigation aids and digital cameras.

According to data from GSMA Intelligence, the total number of IoT connections is predicted to grow from just over nine billion (9.1 billion) in 2018 to 25 billion by 2025, with the total IoT revenue opportunity worth $1.1 trillion by 2025.

The bulk of the machine-to-machine (M2M) market (92 per cent) uses short-range, unlicensed connections (e.g., Wi-Fi and ZigBee), while the wide-area market is heavily reliant on mobile connectivity. Licenced cellular IoT connections (cellular M2M and licenced LWPA) are expected to grow from 1.1 billion in 2018 to 3.5 billion by 2025.

The requirements of wide-area IoT services vary much more widely than those for traditional mobile services. As a result, mobile technology standards are continuously evolving to support these use cases, which is driving innovation and ensuring that mobile IoT is increasingly well placed to compete effectively with other IoT solutions.

The latest mobile standard — 3GPP Release 13 — supports all the key requirements for mobile IoT technologies, including: long battery life, low device cost, low deployment cost, widespread coverage and support for a massive number of devices.

The mobile industry already plays a significant role in the wide-area M2M market — most notably via GSM systems for low-bandwidth applications, such as vending machines, and through 3G and 4G-LTE for high-bandwidth applications such as streaming video.


How can governments and regulators use spectrum policy to incentivise the rapid roll out of IoT services?

What are the benefits of using licensed spectrum for IoT?

Industry Position

Licensed spectrum is vital in order to deliver the most reliable IoT services. This is because of its unique ability to support quality of service guarantees over wide areas, as networks using licensed spectrum are not at risk of interference and operators can control usage levels on their networks.

As a result, licensed mobile IoT may be the only choice for services that require concrete assurance levels, such as security and medical applications.

Licensed spectrum has the capacity and coverage capabilities to support IoT growth. Crucially, the IoT technologies included in the latest mobile standard, Release 13, significantly build on the coverage capabilities of existing spectrum.

The viability of mobile IoT is contingent on governments adopting a positive regulatory framework, especially as it pertains to mobile spectrum. This type of framework must not impose service or technological restrictions that hold back innovation. Instead it should be designed to nurture evolution in the capabilities of mobile networks and allow the market to decide which solutions will thrive.

International spectrum harmonisation is vital for the development of a global, affordable mobile IoT market. This is because it enables the development of mass-market, low-cost mobile IoT devices, through the creation of an addressable market that is large enough to support manufacturing economies of scale.

Harmonised mobile spectrum is needed to support all wide-area IoT use cases, including coverage bands for Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) use cases and capacity bands for high-bandwidth applications like video streaming.
Regulators should work with the mobile industry to support IoT in 5G spectrum planning, as 5G is expected to play an important role in the evolution of mobile IoT.


GSMA Public Policy Position: Internet of Things
GSMA Guide: The Internet of Things
GSMA Video: The Internet of Things – A World of Opportunity

Spectrum Harmonisation


Spectrum harmonisation refers to the uniform allocation of radio frequency bands, under common technical and regulatory regimes, across entire regions. A country’s adherence to internationally identified spectrum bands offers many advantages:

  • Lower costs for consumers, as device manufacturers can mass-produce devices that function in multiple countries on a single band.
  • Availability of a wider portfolio of devices, driven by a larger, international market.
  • Roaming, or the ability to use a mobile device abroad.
  • Fewer issues of cross-border interference.

At the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2015 in Geneva, agreement was reached on the creation of three global spectrum bands for mobile — 700 MHz, 1427-1518 MHz and 3.4-3.6 GHz. The outcome provides the industry with an important mix of internationally harmonised coverage and capacity spectrum to meet the growing demand for mobile services. Spectrum harmonisation through the WRC process is also key to enabling lower-cost mobile devices through economies of scale.


How harmonised does a band need to be to realise the benefits of harmonisation?
Can a national market be so large that the benefits of spectrum harmonisation are inconsequential?
In the future, will cognitive technologies enable devices to tune dynamically to any band removing the need for countries to harmonise?

Industry Position

Governments that align national use of the spectrum with internationally harmonised band plans will achieve the greatest benefits for consumers and avoid interference along their borders.

At a minimum, harmonisation of mobile bands at the regional level is crucial. Even small variations on standard band plans can result in device manufacturers having to build market-specific devices, with costly consequences for consumers.

All markets should harmonise regionally where possible, as this benefits the entire global mobile ecosystem. There is no advantage in going it alone.

Cognitive radio technologies will not reduce the need for harmonised mobile spectrum anytime soon. Adhering to internationally recognised band plans is the only way to achieve large economies of scale.


GSMA & Boston Consulting Group Report: The Economic Benefits of Early Harmonisation of the Digital Dividend Spectrum and the Cost of Fragmentation in Asia-Pacific
GSMA & Plum Consulting Report: The Benefits of Releasing Spectrum for Mobile Broadband in Sub-Saharan Africa
GSMA Report: Economic Benefits of the Digital Dividend for Latin America

Twenty-eight different approaches to manage radio frequencies in the EU do not make economic sense in the Digital Single Market… We propose a joint approach to use the 700 MHz band for mobile services. This band is the sweet spot for both wide coverage and high speeds. It will give top-quality internet access to all Europeans, even in rural areas, and pave the way for 5G, the next generation of communication network.
— Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, European Commission, 2016

Deeper Dive

World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19)

Spectrum harmonisation has created economies of scale for existing generations of mobile networks, which in turn have made mobile services and handsets more affordable. To become a success, widely harmonised mobile spectrum is again needed to ensure 5G meets its future expectations and delivers the full range of affordable services.

5G networks require spectrum within three key frequency ranges: sub-1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz. The availability of widely harmonised spectrum for 5G in the latter frequency range will depend to a large extent on the decisions made at WRC-19. This spectrum is needed for 5G to be able to offer multi-gigabit per second (Gbps) data rates and to support very low latency (sub-1 ms).

The work at WRC-19 includes Agenda Item 1.13 (AI 1.13), which looks at spectrum for mobile broadband between 24.25 and 86 GHz. In total, eight frequencies are being considered:

Frequencies being considered under Agenda Item 1.13

  • 24.25-27.5 GHz
  • 31.8-33.4 GHz
  • 37-43.5 GHz
  • 45.5-50.2 GHz
  • 50.4-52.6 GHz
  • 66-71 GHz
  • 71-76 GHz

The GSMA advocates for identification of the 26 GHz, 40 GHz and 66 GHz bands. The 26 GHz band (24.25-27.5 GHz) is already gaining traction and has been chosen in Europe as a ‘pioneer band’. Africa, the Middle East, Asia, member countries of RCC and parts of the Americas are also planning to use this band for 5G. Identifying the band for IMT at WRC-19 sets the stage for harmonisation and helps build the scale necessary for low-cost devices and services. There are also technical and economic benefits. For example, as the 26 GHz band is adjacent to the 28 GHz band, it allows for economies of scale and early equipment availability. The 28 GHz band will be used as the first millimetre-wave 5G band in the US, Korea, Japan and Canada, with implementation done outside of the WRC-19 process and under an existing mobile allocation.

The GSMA also supports the identification of 37-43.5 GHz (known as the 40 GHz band) for IMT. Identifying the whole band for IMT at WRC-19 allows for flexibility. For example, it lets different countries and regions choose which part of the band to implement.

Another band that holds strong interest for the mobile industry is 66-71 GHz. The decision by the Federal Communications Commission in the US to use this band for 5G adds momentum to the existing support for this band in Europe, Africa and member countries of RCC. The GSMA supports the identification of the 66-71 GHz band for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and believes it should be available for use by 5G systems with flexibility to allow for different licensing regimes, thus enabling its use by both IMT and non-IMT technologies.

It is important to remember that the WRC process is a long-term endeavour. Spectrum identified at WRC-19 will be in use for decades to come, so it is important to get involved and ensure the details are correct now, irrespective of when the first commercial 5G services will be launched.

WRC-19 runs from 28 October to 22 November 2019. Here are the GSMA’s recommendations on how to succeed at the conference:

  • Advocate positions as much as possible at national and regional levels before the conference.
  • Familiarise yourself with the process and structure of the conference to make it easier to follow the agenda items.
  • Know who you can ask for help on important issues.
  • Keep track of who is on your side and, even more importantly, who is not, on each issue; getting to know the opposition and what can be offered is key.
  • Have fall-back positions ready if the optimum outcome can’t be reached.
  • Don’t assume that decisions are just rubber stamped by the plenary during the last couple of days.
  • Manage energy levels — the WRC is a marathon, not a sprint: prioritisation is key to a successful outcome.

Learn more about the WRC process at: www.gsma.com/spectrum/wrc-intro

Spectrum Licence Renewal


Many of the original 2G spectrum licences are coming up for renewal in the next few years. National regulatory authorities must determine how mobile operators’ spectrum rights will be affected as licences approach the end of their initial term.

The prospect of licence expiry creates significant uncertainty for mobile operators. A transparent, predictable and coherent approach to renewal is therefore important, enabling operators to make rational, long-term investment decisions.

There is no standard approach to relicensing spectrum. Each market needs to be considered independently, with industry stakeholders involved at all stages of the decision process. Failure to effectively manage the process can delay investment in new services, potentially affecting mobile services for millions of consumers.



Which approach to spectrum licence renewal will have the most beneficial outcome for consumers and society?
Should spectrum licence holders presume they will have the option to renew when the licence reaches the end of its term, unless otherwise specified in the licence?
Should governments feel free to reshuffle spectrum allocations, change bandwidths or alter licence conditions on renewal?

Industry Position

It is essential that governments and regulators implement a clear and timely process for the renewal of spectrum licences.

Maintaining mobile service for consumers is critical. To ensure this, the approach for licence renewal should be agreed at least three to four years before licence expiry.

Governments and regulators should work on the presumption of licence renewal for the existing licence holder. Exceptions should only apply if there has been a serious breach of licence conditions in advance of renewal.

Should a government choose to reappraise the market structure at the time of renewal, the priorities should be to maintain service for consumers and ensure network investments are not stranded. Governments should not discriminate in favour of, or against, new market entrants, but establish a level playing field.

New licences should be granted for 15 to 20 years, at least, to give investors adequate time to realise a reasonable return on their investment.

Renewed mobile licences should be technology and service neutral.


GSMA Public Policy Position: Licence Renewal
GSMA & CEG Report: Licensing to Support the Mobile Broadband Revolution

Spectrum Licensing


Spectrum licensing is central to the delivery of high-quality mobile broadband services and long-term, heavy investment in networks.

The amount of spectrum made available and the terms on which it is licensed fundamentally drive the cost, range and quality of mobile services.

Mobile is a capital-intensive industry requiring significant investment in infrastructure. Governments’ spectrum licensing policies — when supported by a stable, predictable and transparent regulatory regime — can dramatically raise the attractiveness of markets to investors.

Spectrum management for mobile telecommunications is complex, as governments release new spectrum in existing mobile bands; manage the renewal of licences coming to the end of their initial term; and release spectrum in new bands for mobile broadband services.


What is the most effective way to license spectrum?
What conditions should be tied to spectrum-access rights?
Are licensing rules the best way to ensure a healthy, well-functioning mobile sector, or should the development of the industry be shaped predominantly by market forces?


GSMA & CEG Report: Best practice in mobile spectrum licensing
GSMA & NERA Report: Effective Spectrum Pricing: Supporting better quality and more affordable mobile services
GSMA Public Policy Position: Licence Renewal

Industry Position

Spectrum rights should be assigned to the services and operators that can generate the greatest benefit to society from the use of that spectrum.

Regulatory authorities should foster a transparent and stable licensing framework that prioritises exclusive access rights, promotes a high quality of service and encourages investment.

Licensing authorities should publish a road map of the planned release of additional spectrum bands to maximise the benefits of spectrum use. The road map should take a five- to ten-year view and include a comprehensive and reasonably detailed inventory of current use.

Restrictive licence terms and conditions limit operators’ abilities to use their spectrum resources fully, and risk delaying investment in new services.

In particular, service and technology restrictions in existing licences should be removed. New licences should be at least 15-20 years in length to encourage significant investment in networks, including in rural areas.

To the maximum practical extent, spectrum should be identified, allocated and licensed in alignment with internationally harmonised mobile spectrum bands to enable international economies of scale, reduce cross-border interference and facilitate international services.

For new spectrum allocations, market-based approaches to licensing, such as auctions, are the most efficient way to assign spectrum to the bidders that value the spectrum the most.

The primary goal in all awards should be to encourage the most efficient use of spectrum through investment in widespread, high-quality networks. Efforts to use awards to raise excessive revenues, such as through high auction reserve prices or annual fees, have been linked to negative consumer outcomes through reduced network investment and increased prices. Instead, auction reserves should be set conservatively to let the market determine the price and licence fees should be limited to recovering the administrative costs of spectrum management.

Spectrum Sharing


Continually rising data traffic means mobile services must rely on access to growing amounts of spectrum to meet demand. However, completely clearing new frequency bands for future mobile use has become increasingly difficult. When clearing a band is not possible, spectrum sharing may offer a way to help by enabling mobile access to additional bands in areas, and at times, when other services are not using them.

Sharing is only possible if regulations do not prohibit it, commercial measures incentivise it, and it is technically practical (i.e., different users can operate effectively without interference). Regulators can enable sharing by giving incumbent users the right to share their spectrum voluntarily through sharing agreements or by awarding rights to use spectrum in areas and/or at times when the incumbent is not using it. Sharing will impose opportunity costs on incumbents, so they will generally need to be remunerated for sharing their spectrum, especially if they have paid for access.

Policymakers increasingly see spectrum sharing as a means of opening up additional spectrum for 4G and 5G mobile services. Their decisions regarding bands and frameworks for sharing are likely to have a significant impact on the quality and coverage of these services, as well as the level of investment mobile operators and other users are willing to make in them.


What role can spectrum sharing play alongside traditional spectrum management approaches, such as exclusively licensed spectrum and unlicensed spectrum?
What spectrum sharing frameworks could be used to enable mobile services and how would they impact investment in these services?


GSMA Public Policy Position: Spectrum Sharing
GSMA & Deloitte Report: The Impact of Licensed Shared Use of Spectrum
AT&T Public Policy blog: The Power of Licensed Spectrum

While we agree that sharing paradigms should be explored as another option for spectrum management, sharing technologies have long promised but remain largely unproven.
— Joan Marsh, Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory, AT&T

Industry Position

Spectrum sharing is an opportunity to open up access to new spectrum for mobile services but needs careful planning to succeed. It is essential that the approach chosen protects the needs of incumbents, supports the needs of new users, and avoids limiting the future evolution of the band including possible repurposing.

Exclusive licensing has been central to the success of mobile services and must continue. Spectrum sharing is a complementary, not an alternative, approach.

Sharing will only be useful for operators if the proposed band is harmonised for mobile use and is available and usable in sufficient quantities in areas and at times where needed.

Mobile operators favour a simple sharing framework that is investment-friendly and supports reliable, high-quality mobile services. Complex sharing frameworks, such as those with three tiers, are likely to be less desirable to mobile operators. They may limit the amount of spectrum for prioritised licensed access — which may make a band unsuitable for 5G — and introduce conditions (e.g. relatively low power limits, small licence areas, short licences) that restrict deployment options (e.g. for macrocells or fixed wireless access) and discourage significant long-term wide-area network investment.

Mobile operators should be permitted to voluntarily share spectrum to support faster services, improve coverage and drive innovation. They should also be permitted to voluntarily establish commercial agreements to lease spectrum to other types of operators (e.g. verticals or rural wireless internet service providers). However, it should be noted that sharing may not always be possible in areas where it is currently unused. This can be due to future planned use of the band or because the required coordination or synchronisation measures may undermine good-quality services.

Sharing can play a role in the 5G era but poor implementation risks harming its potential. Mobile operators will need a core foundation of exclusively licensed 5G spectrum, including in millimetre wave bands, to support wide-area services, heavy network investment and good quality of service. Sharing can play a complementary role if the band and sharing framework is carefully designed. If sharing means an insufficient amount of licensed spectrum is available to mobile operators where and when they need it then sharing may limit, or eliminate, the potential for 5G in the band.

Spectrum sharing will not succeed unless incumbent users are encouraged to share their spectrum in areas where it is underused and there is clear, and commercially viable, demand from other users.

Sharing should balance the current and future requirements of incumbents and sharers. The success of spectrum management has been contingent on providing reliable, guaranteed access to spectrum users to allow long-term investment and enable technology evolution. It is vital sharing does not undermine this success.

Deeper Dive

Spectrum Sharing Models

Licensed use of spectrum, on an exclusive basis, is a time-tested approach for ensuring that spectrum users — including mobile operators — can deliver a high quality of service to consumers without interference. However, as demand for spectrum increases there is growing interest in exploring spectrum sharing.
There are a variety of frameworks that can be used to implement sharing. These frameworks control who can share the band and define respective usage rights and limitations. The key variables usually include:

The number of access tiers:

A one-tier model typically grants everyone the same usage rights. Two-tier models include the incumbent and one class of shared user. Some models add a third tier with further reduced access rights (e.g., low-power uses).

Access guarantees:

The framework outlines the access guarantees that the tiers of users can expect. These can include traditional licensing to provide strong guarantees and high quality of service.

Access terms, technical conditions and fees (if any):

These define the geographic area over which users may operate and, where necessary, for how long and at what cost (e.g., when a tier is licensed). They also include technical conditions (e.g., power levels) which affect coverage.

TV white space:

Television spectrum in the UHF band that, due to predictable geographical or temporal gaps in TV broadcasting, offers the potential for licence-exempt devices to use the spectrum for broadband services — but usage is typically controlled through a database.

CBRS-type approaches:

The planned ‘Citizens Broadband Radio Service’ approach in the United States in the 3.5 GHz band aims to support three tiers using dynamic sharing. The top tier are the incumbents (e.g., radars, satellite companies and wireless ISPs) who have the most protection. The secondary tier are Prioritised Access Licence (PAL) holders, who will pay to buy rights to use a portion of the available spectrum where it is not in use by the top tier. The third tier is for General Authorised Access (GAA) and is available to anyone but will have the least protection. Portions of the spectrum are reserved for GAA and PAL tiers in areas where the incumbent is not using the spectrum. PAL and GAA users can access each other’s reserved portion of spectrum where it is not registered as being used in the Spectrum Access System (SAS) database.

Licensed Shared Access:

Incumbent licence holders can sub-license spectrum to other users in a controlled way. The traditional model was developed in Europe for the 2.3 GHz band. It has two tiers including the incumbent and secondary users (e.g., mobile operators) who are permitted to use the spectrum in areas when it is available. More advanced models are being developed.

Concurrent Shared Access (e.g., club licensing):

Unlike the approaches above, this only allows one class of user but allows them to share spectrum with each other in a coordinated way. This could allow sharing between mobile operators to improve data speeds and spectrum efficiency.

Licence-exempt spectrum (aka unlicensed spectrum):

A one-tier approach where the band can be used by multiple systems and services if they meet predefined ‘politeness protocols’ and technical standards. Wi-Fi is a technology that uses licence-exempt spectrum.

Spectrum Trading


Spectrum trading is a mechanism by which mobile network operators can transfer spectrum-usage rights on a voluntary commercial basis.

Trading spectrum-usage rights is a relatively recent development. In Europe, most countries that allow the practice have done so since 2002 or later, and each country has established different rules governing the practice.

Trading rules can facilitate the partial transfer of a usage right, which could permit a licensee to use a specified frequency band at a particular location or for a certain duration. This may result in more intensive use of the limited spectrum.


Should spectrum-trading arrangements between operators be allowed?
What role should regulators play in overseeing such arrangements?
What regulatory procedures are required to ensure transparency and notification of voluntary spectrum trading?

Industry Position

Countries should have a regulatory framework that allows operators to engage in voluntary spectrum trading.

Spectrum trading creates increased flexibility in business planning and ensures that spectrum does not lie fallow, but instead is used to deliver valuable services to citizens.

Spectrum-trading restrictions should only be applied when competitive or other compelling concerns are present.

Spectrum-trading agreements are governed by commercial law and subject to the rules applicable to such agreements. They may also be subject to assessment under competition law.

It makes sense for governments to be notified of spectrum-trading agreements and to grant approval. Notification requirements preserve transparency, making it clear which entities hold spectrum-usage rights and ensuring that trading arrangements are not anti-competitive.

Governments should implement appropriate and effective procedures for handling notification requests of spectrum-trading agreements.


GSMA Public Policy Position: Spectrum Trading
GSMA Response: RSPG public consultation on secondary trading of rights to use spectrum
CEPT & CEE Report: Description of Practices Relative to Trading of Spectrum Rights of Use

Technology Neutrality and Change of Use


Technology neutrality is a policy approach that allows the use of any non-interfering technology in any frequency band.

In practice, this means that governments allocate and license spectrum for particular services (e.g., broadcasting, mobile, satellite), but do not specify the underlying technology used (e.g., 3G, LTE or WiMAX).

Many of the original mobile licences were issued for a specific technology, such as GSM or CDMA, which restricts the ability of the licence holder to ‘refarm’ the band using an alternative, more efficient technology.

Refarming refers to the repurposing of assigned frequency bands, such as those used for 2G mobile services (using GSM technology) for newer technologies, including third-generation (UMTS technology) and fourth-generation (LTE technology) mobile services.

Spectrum allocations for international mobile telecommunications (IMT) are technology neutral. IMT technologies — including GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, LTE and WiMAX — are standardised for technical coexistence.


Should governments set the technical parameters for a band’s use or should the market decide?
Should licence conditions restrict operators’ ability to deploy more efficient technologies and adapt to market changes?
How is spectrum coexistence best managed to prevent interference between services and operators using different technologies?

Industry Position

We support a licensing approach that allows any compatible, non-interfering technology to be used in mobile frequency bands.

Adopting harmonised, regional band plans for mobile ensures that interference between services can be managed. Governments should allow operators to deploy any mobile technology that can technically coexist within the international band plan.

Technology neutrality encourages innovation and promotes competition, allowing markets to determine which technologies succeed, to the benefit of consumers and society.

Governments should amend technology specific licences to allow new technologies to be deployed, enabling operators to serve more subscribers and provide each subscriber with better, more innovative services per unit of bandwidth.

Enabling spectrum licence holders to change the underlying technology of their service, known as refarming, generates positive economic and social outcomes and should be allowed.


GSMA Public Policy Position: Change of Use of Spectrum
GSMA & CEG Report: Licensing to Support the Broadband Revolution

We know that the choice of the wrong standard can lock our economies into long periods of economic underperformance, while market-led solutions have consistently provided a much better environment for technology selection.
— Viviane Reding, European Commissioner, 4 December 2006

Deeper Dive

The 1800 MHz Band: A Global Refarming Success Story for LTE

The lack of truly global LTE frequency bands made it difficult to establish a wide range of low-cost devices for the first phase of 4G services. It also prevented widespread international roaming.

Because mobile devices can only support a limited number of frequency bands, a lack of harmonised bands means devices can only operate and be sold in a limited number of markets. This problem was highlighted when several early 4G-enabled Apple devices could not operate on some 4G networks around the world, as they did not support the right frequency bands.

A critical part of the solution has been the 1800 MHz band, which has traditionally been used for 2G GSM services. The band has historically been one of the key enablers of low-cost devices and international roaming, as it is one of the only bands to be harmonised worldwide.

In countries where regulators support technology neutral spectrum licences, operators have been able to refarm the 1800 MHz band for LTE services. The 1800 MHz band is now the most widely deployed LTE band globally, as well as the most widely supported in mobile devices. According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), the 1800 MHz band has the largest device ecosystem of any LTE band, with over 4,872 compatible user devices available as of April 2017.

Technology and Service Neutrality Incentivises the Adoption of New Technologies

Restricting the use of spectrum to particular technologies and services exacerbates the problem of scarcity of spectrum and prevents customers from gaining access to new services. Removing restrictions that limit the use of spectrum to particular services or technologies (beyond those needed to manage interference) enables a country to maximise the benefits from its spectrum resources on an ongoing basis. Operators’ ability to introduce new, more spectrally efficient, mobile technologies (including LTE, LTE Advanced and in future 5G) will be critical to meeting exponential growth in demand for mobile data services. A number of countries only allow for licences to be made technology neutral after the payment of fees. High charges for amending licences to make them technology and service neutral risks delaying the benefits of new technology reaching end users.

Mapping 4G-LTE Deployments by Frequency Bands

610 operators worldwide now have live LTE networks, covering 196 countries. As many operators use multiple spectrum bands in their LTE networks, this equates to more than 1,120 individual deployments (including 4G fixed-wireless deployments)

Source: GSMA Intelligence

TV White Space


Today, several approaches are being explored to help improve broadband coverage in rural areas, including gaps that might exist between licensed spectrum users. The expression ‘white space’ is often used to describe these gaps. They are parts of a spectrum band that are not used at a given time in a geographical location.

TV white space (TVWS) describes spectrum in the television broadcasting bands (470–790 MHz in Europe and 470–698 MHz in the Americas, for example). Because of necessary geographical separation between television stations on the same and adjacent channels, there are varying amounts of unused spectrum.

The actual amount depends on the number of TV stations in a specific area and nearby areas. It is worth noting that commercially desirable geographic areas, such as major urban and suburban areas with high population and business densities, typically have little, if any, TV white space at all.


What approach should regulators take to TVWS?

What challenges do TVWS networks face?

What role can the technology play in helping connect everyone and everything?

Industry Position

TVWS networks make opportunistic use of white spaces to provide generally small-scale services on a secondary and unlicensed basis. These services aren’t allowed to interfere with TV signals, the primary users of the spectrum. Since the spectrum is shared, devices can only operate if white space is available and other TVWS devices aren’t using it already. As such, there is no guarantee users will be able to stay connected or connect at all.

For TVWS to work, careful avoidance of interference is needed with primary licensees such as existing TV broadcasters and other TVWS devices and services in adjacent bands. Even in the most developed markets this technology hasn’t yet been proven.

The roll out of TVWS services should not be allowed to disrupt the licensing of the Digital Dividend bands for mobile broadband services (i.e., 800 MHz, 700 MHz and increasingly the 600 MHz band, too).
The Digital Dividend is central to extending commercially proven mobile broadband services across whole countries, including rural areas.

The advantages of licensed mobile services over the secondary unlicensed approach of TVWS include: a more mature and developed ecosystem, better reliability, higher quality of service and increased coverage (due to higher power limits for licensed devices).

New regulatory and technical solutions are needed to connect everyone. TVWS networks can be used to provide backhaul for Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas where there is no cellular connectivity.

Still, they face challenges related to the availability of equipment, cost and quality of service. Public authorities must carefully consider this when making long-term decisions about spectrum allocations. The same is true when considering how best to meet future broadband goals.


GSMA Public Policy Position on TV White Space
GSMA Public Policy Position on Spectrum Sharing
AT&T Public Policy Blog: The Power of Licensed Spectrum

The over-eager pursuit of unlicensed sharing models cannot turn a blind eye to the model proven to deliver investment, innovation, and jobs — exclusive licensing. Industry and government alike must continue with the hard work of clearing and licensing underutilised government spectrum where feasible.
— Joan Marsh, Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory, AT&T