The recipe for 5G

This blog post was written by Luciana Camargos, Director, Future Spectrum at the GSMA

The recipe for 5G has a lot of ingredients, but for 5G to become a success, one of the key components is spectrum. Harmonised mobile spectrum will ensure 5G services meet future expectations and deliver the full range of affordable services. What happens at the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 will have a major impact on the future of 5G.

The momentum behind 5G is accelerating. By the start of September, industry organisation GSA identified 81 operators that are testing 5G or have the licenses to begin field trials in 42 countries.

To flourish, 5G networks need spectrum across three broad frequency ranges: below 1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz. Each range offers different elements, low spectrum for providing coverage, mid and high spectrum for meeting capacity needs and very high spectrum for amazing speed. Harmonised spectrum above 24 GHz will provide the opportunity to be able to offer multi-gigabit per second (Gbps) data services and open the door to very low latencies (sub-1ms). This is possible thanks to the large amounts of spectrum available in this range. More spectrum equals more data and higher speeds, something huge numbers of consumers are demanding.

The work at the United Nation’s World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19) will contain an agenda item that will pave the way for the super-fast services envisioned as part of 5G. Agenda Item 1.13 (AI 1.13) will look at seven frequency ranges for spectrum for mobile broadband between 24.25 and 86 GHz.

Technical and business studies are already underway for the proposed bands in order to identify which bands are best suited to mobile services. The GSMA is focusing first on the 26, 32 and 40 GHz bands.

The 26 GHz band (24.25-27.5 GHz) has the highest priority for several reasons. First, it is already seeing traction around the globe for mobile broadband services, the band is already a ‘pioneer band’ in Europe and China and much of Africa is also onboard.

Second, there are significant technical and economic benefits. The 26 GHz band is adjacent to the 28 GHz band, allowing for economies of scale and early equipment availability because the 28 GHz band will be used as the first millimetre-wave 5G band in the US, South Korea and Japan, with implementation done outside of the WRC-19 process and under an existing mobile allocation.

Third, the smaller coverage area of services using higher frequencies can lessen interference concerns in mobile networks and increase the opportunity for spectrum sharing. That means high band 5G services may be able to use the same bands with other spectrum users.

An often-raised question is why countries that are unlikely to be early adopters of 5G should care about this work. The work done today will set the framework for the future.
The spectrum identification, allocation and assignment process is a long-term effort. Spectrum identified at WRC-19 will be in use for decades to come so it is important to get involved and get it right now, irrespective of when the first commercial 5G services arrive.

To learn more, the GSMA’s 5G spectrum guide is available here.