Spectrum – who needs it more?

UK regulatory authority Ofcom has begun an auction for spectrum that will pave the way for 5G services to be launched in the UK.

With a number of 5G networks expected to be rolled out globally by 2020, just how much spectrum is required to operate these next-generation mobile wireless systems?

Earlier this year, satellite service providers Intelsat and SES announced alignment on a proposal to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which seeks to “protect the wide array of established satellite services in the 3700-4200MHz C-band downlink spectrum while opening a specified portion of that spectrum for terrestrial mobile use”.

The proposal, which builds on an initial proposal put forth by Intelsat and Intel in October 2017, sets a commercial and technical framework that would enable wireless operators to quickly access approximately 100MHz of nationwide C-band downlink spectrum in the US, thus speeding the deployment of next-generation 5G services, said Intelsat and SES.

Sharing spectrum is a tricky issue, and there is a long way to go before a solution can be found, suggested Martin Coleman, an independent consultant. He told APB: “There is unlikely to be a solution that suits all parties. There will be different approaches, especially across different regions.

“However, rather than thinking about sharing spectrum, the Intelsat-SES proposal is more about allocation, that is, allocating some C-band spectrum to the mobile industry.”

Coleman also suggested that it is inevitable that more spectrum will be allocated to the mobile industry. “The mobile industry is trying to satisfy increasing consumer demand for more and better services — this means it needs more capacity.”

He, however, is quick to stress that while there is a higher chance of spectrum re-allocation in regions such as Europe and the US, C-band spectrum is critical for Asia-Pacific, where weather is a key consideration.

And for regions where re-allocation of spectrum is feasible, the biggest barrier will be the business case. Coleman explained: “Many of those using C-band would happily change to another band, but there are cost implications in terms of equipment and possible higher cost to lease a different satellite band. Therefore, this only works if someone pays.

“As the IMT industry is keen to acquire that spectrum, perhaps it should be considering how to close that business case for those able to move? If that happens, it becomes a simple question of allocation.”

For more in-depth analysis of C-band spectrum allocation for mobile services, be sure to obtain the APB April 2018 issue.

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