5G Spectrum roadmaps in Asia Pacific: defining future connectivity through strategic planning

Mobile’s ability to enhance productivity and develop economic prosperity is constantly evolving. Roughly every 10 years a new generation of mobile technology comes along, bringing fundamental improvements to mobile networks but also new challenges for spectrum management.

Countries in the Asia Pacific region have been at the forefront of many mobile technologies, from the first 3G network launch in Japan to the first commercial 5G networks in South Korea. Today the mobile industry is in the early stages of the 5G era. At the end of 2021, 5G had been launched in around 70 markets. In 5G pioneer markets such as China, South Korea, Finland, Germany and the United States, operators have seen rapid take-up after launches. While 5G is still not yet available in all markets, it is increasingly part of operators’ network plans and by 2030, mobile 5G connections are expected to surpass 5 billion, accounting for more than half of total connections.

5G requires spectrum in different ranges and the efficiency with which resources can be deployed requires a clear vision into future frequency assets. A clear spectrum roadmap is an important tool which governments and regulators can use to create the right investment environment and allow for the efficient rollout of 5G networks.

The role of spectrum roadmaps

The GSMA recommends that governments and regulators issue spectrum roadmaps setting out forward-looking plans on future 5G spectrum allocations to allow operators the maximum time to plan their investments. 

5G spectrum planning requires careful assessment of country-specific needs and long-term insights, particularly where changes to allocation, migration of incumbent users and implementation of coexistence measures are necessary. A spectrum roadmap should examine requirements over a timescale of at least 5 years to accommodate emerging spectrum needs, technological evolution and international developments.

A roadmap should present not just specific bands and the target release dates, but also the conditions under which the spectrum will be made available.  Some of the main conditions for inclusion in roadmaps are:

  • pricing parameters, obligations and commitments
  • relevant technical and economic studies to be made
  • matters that bring legal certainty, encourage investment and achieve national policy objectives

Spectrum roadmaps should also be reviewed on a regular basis to update on implementation activities in specific bands and consider the implications of changes in market, technology and regulatory trends.

Meeting the needs of 5G

The diversity of 5G use cases and their performance needs can only be fully addressed through a combination of low, mid and high spectrum bands.

Low bands (sub-1 GHz frequencies) are used for covering less-populated areas, delivering deep in-building penetration and lowering the urban-rural digital divide. High bands (mmWave frequencies above 24 GHz) will support ultra-high capacity, low latency bandwidth applications. Mid-band spectrum in the 1-7 GHz range is necessary for city-wide coverage to address the increases in bandwidth and capacity as 5G adoption becomes mainstream. This report looks at 5G spectrum planning across a selection of Asia Pacific markets and sets out best practices and recommendations to help governments and regulators develop their own roadmaps and to enable 5G in the most efficient way possible. To find out more, download the report.