The Sky is Not Falling: How scare tactics are threatening 5G’s future

After a lot of preparation, and yes, plenty of hype, the first commercial services are already delivering on the promise of 5G. Unfortunately, misinformation about the technical impact of 5G systems on other services, including weather forecasting, is putting the potential of 5G at risk just as we are getting started.

Mobile operators need access to a substantial amount of harmonised spectrum to realise the full potential of 5G. To begin, the goal should be 80 – 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands and around 1 GHz per operator in millimetre wave bands.

The already-adopted 5G standard uses mmWave spectrum for 5G, supporting some of the exciting ultra-high-speed services like fast mobile broadband and virtual reality. The mobile industry has demonstrated to technical standards bodies that 5G in this spectrum can be used safely alongside other services, including weather sensing services, commercial satellite, radar and other applications that occupy adjacent airwaves.

However, European regulators are considering overly-stringent technical conditions for mmWave spectrum. If allowed to stand, they will significantly undermine the mobile ecosystem’s ability to provide 5G across Europe, damaging services there and denying the world the benefits of economies of scale. The weather sensing community in Europe is supporting this position with over-the-top statements on the possible fallout of mmWave 5G launches.

The work done ahead of WRC-19, where access to mmWaves for mobile services is on the agenda, has shown that the coexistence of 5G and weather sensing is possible with reasonable protection conditions. Detailed technical studies, available in the public record, have shown that existing services can be safeguarded without hampering the rollout of 5G.

A scrapped program

The weather sensing community is basing their doomsday scenario, in part, on a scrapped program of weather sensors that were never even deployed. It is also playing fast and loose with how interference studies should be conducted, and how mobile networks are architected.

Making decisions for 5G that aren’t based on real-world facts is simply going to result in a huge loss of socio-economic benefits from mobile operator access to mmWave bands like 26 GHz and 40 GHz. The facts don’t support adopting technical limits that renders more than 50% of the spectrum unusable for 5G. This is just bad spectrum management – it is an inefficient use of a scarce public resource.

In a show of unity between mobile operators and key ecosystem players, GSMA’s European operators plus the manufacturing community last year sent a letter to European Ministers urging them to reconsider their ultra-conservative approach on the technical conditions for this spectrum. So far, warnings have gone unheeded.

The GSMA is not the first organisation (and hopefully not the last) to challenge this threat to the future of 5G. Countries, regulators, organisations and companies that want to fulfil the potential of 5G all need to make their voices impossible to ignore in the run-up to WRC-19.

The mmWave payoff

Rolling out 5G networks using mmWaves is challenging, but the payoff is worth the effort. Unlocking this resource for the mobile industry is expected to add $565 billion to global GDP and $152 billion in tax revenue from 2020 to 2034. 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.

Behind the numbers, a whole new world is opening up. 5G in the mmWaves gives the promise of mobile broadband at fibre-like speeds to homes and offices and widespread implementation of industrial automation, especially processes requiring a high degree of precision that will benefit from the low latency associated with mmWave 5G. The same is true for augmented and virtual reality.

None of these use cases will reach their full potential without access to this spectrum, and the mobile industry alone can deliver on this potential. Mobile operators have a history of maximising the impact of our spectrum resources and no one else has done more to transform spectrum allocations into services that are changing people’s lives.

The integration of 5G 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, and it is up governments and regulators to help make the most of them.

To read more about 5G’s immense potential, please visit the GSMA’s 5G spectrum guide.