Sweden decides to delay 5G spectrum allocation

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) has announced it will delay the allocation of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands due to a security review.

The 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands spectrum bands are two of the most attractive when it comes to rolling out 5G services, blending together a palatable compromise between increased download speeds and coverage. These spectrum auctions have proven to be some of the most interesting, though the delay will be an irritant for the ambitious telcos.

Pointing towards new security implications introduced in the country’s electronic communications law (PLAY), which will be implemented on January 1, 2020, the regulator feels it needs more time to continue discussions with police and security agencies. Details are thin on the ground for the moment, though this is hardly going to be viewed as a plus at the telcos who have been demanding more spectrum be released.

In June, progress looked to be gathering momentum as PTS announced a public consultation to release spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands. 15 national blocks of at least 20 MHz in the 3.4 GHz-3.7 GHz band were set to be auctioned, as well as up to eight 10 MHz nationwide licences at 2.3GHz. The auction was likely to take place in the early part of 2020, though these plans have now been side-lined.

Sweden is not in a unique position when it comes to a need to free-up valuable spectrum assets, though that will come as little comfort to those who were gearing-up for an auction in the coming months. Reviews like this create a sense of uncertainty in the minds of the telcos, and uncertainty is the enemy of investment. You only have to look at the UK for evidence of this.

Thanks to the creation of the Supply Chain Review, the position of Huawei is still an on-going unknown. This has led the telcos to falter with deployment plans. Unless Sweden want to encounter the same problems, such a security review will have to be completed incredibly quickly. Obligations and conditions will have to be considered and relevant, as the last thing anyone will want is protest from industry, further delaying the critical element of certainty.

Many will hope such a security review does not enter the country into the same purgatory which the UK finds itself in with the Supply Chain Review, but it would surprise few if it did.

Spectrum shortage is killing African digital ambitions

Telcos complaining about government regulation and policies is not unique to the African continent, though they never seem to get along here.

Through the years there have always been complaints from the telcos at AfricaCom. Whether it is import tax making devices unaffordable or policies which don’t attract international investment, the bureaucrats constantly seem to be on the backfoot. This year’s event saw a global pain-point hit the keynote conference agenda; spectrum availability.

This is of course a gripe of almost every telco around the world; there isn’t enough spectrum available to deliver the digital economy which politicians have promised voters. However, when you breakdown the numbers, there are some valid concerns. Looking at the South African landscape demonstrates the point.

  Telco holding
Spectrum band Vodacom MTN Cell C Telkom Rain
900 MHz 22 MHz 22 MHz 22 MHz
1800 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 34 MHz
2100 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz
2300 MHz 68 MHz
2600 MHz 15 MHz
3500 MHz 28 MHz 142 MHz
Total 76 MHz 76 MHz 76 MHz 150 MHz 191 MHz

Speaking during the keynote sessions, MTN CEO Rob Shuter highlighted the South African Government is demanding more from the telcos, without offering more of this valuable asset to deliver. The MTN business has been working with the same spectrum allocation for decades, a situation which cannot continue. More spectrum is needed.

This is one example, though the story is pretty consistent across the continent. The issue is apparent when you compare it to the UK.

  Telco holding
Spectrum band EE Vodafone Three O2
800 MHz 10 MHz 20 MHz 10 MHz 20 MHz
900 MHz 34.8 MHz 34.8 MHz
1500 MHz 20 MHz 20 MHz
1800 MHz 90 MHz 11.6 MHz 30 MHz 11.6 MHz
1900 MHz 10 MHz   5.4 MHz 5 MHz
2100 MHz 40 MHz 29.6 MHz 29.2 MHz 20 MHz
2300 MHz 40 MHz
2600 MHz 70 MHz 45 MHz 55 MHz
3500 MHz 40 MHz 50 MHz 60 MHz 40 MHz
3700 MHz 80 MHz
Total 260 MHz 211 MHz 289.6 MHz 171.4 MHz

Not only is there more spectrum available, it is broadly spread across a range of spectrum bands to address different usecases and challenges. Soon enough another spectrum auction will take place in the 700 MHz and 3600-3800 MHz spectrum bands.

This is of course a very simplistic way to look at the landscape. South Africa is a very unique country, and spectrum is allocated with conditions, such as minority ownership of the telco. There is an on-going conflict between the major telcos and the government regarding the obligations placed on spectrum allocation, but the end result is still the same; a scarcity of an incredibly valuable resource.

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope however. In recent weeks, the government published an ‘Information Memorandum’ outlining plans for additional spectrum to bolster 4G connectivity and pave way for 5G in the future, though attendees at AfricaCom are not exactly enthralled by the situation. For some, this is just more talk in place of action. Confidence in the governments ability to sort out this mess in a timely manner is not particularly high.

This sceptical view is perhaps supported by the 800 MHz spectrum band. Currently being used by broadcasters, there have been promises to clean the airwaves for use in the mobile world, though little of this promise has translated into assistance for the telcos. The frustration continues.

South Africa seems to have an ‘us versus them’ situation currently. Governments and telcos are rarely best of friends elsewhere, but there is a collaborative environment to ensure an effective connectivity landscape. The Shared Rural Network proposal in the UK is an excellent example of bringing together various different parties with compromises being made to achieve a common goal. This collaborative environment does not seem to exist in South Africa.

If South Africa, and African nations in general, are to compete with other regions in the digital economy, or drive digital inclusion across society, the spectrum conundrum needs to be addressed. But looking at the bigger picture, telcos and governments need to reduce the friction and create a more collaborative environment. These are not parties who are ever likely to be the best of friends, but they should at least be able to tolerate each other in the pursuit of a common objective.

T-Mobile US promises nationwide 5G before Christmas

T-Mobile US has made the very bold statement that it will switch on a nationwide 5G network on December 6.

With the 5G race heating up, the industry should be prepared to tolerate some interesting statements and might well have to swallow some considerable exaggerations. This certainly has the potential to be an example.

“We’re building a 5G network that will allow us to deliver future New T-Mobile moves that are going to be so massive we couldn’t wait to share the first few,” said CEO John Legere.

“We have definitively put a stake in the ground around the kind of company the supercharged Un-carrier will be and the ways we can put this radically better 5G network to work doing goof for this country — good for consumers, good for competition and good for innovation.

“Only the New T-Mobile’s transformative 5G network will finally have the capacity and reach to make the bold moves we announced today that are squarely aimed at solving inequities that have huge impacts on our society. When it comes to wireless service, many have been taken advantage of, left behind or completely forgotten. It’s time for another wave of change and the New T-Mobile will be at the forefront of that.”

Legere certainly has precedent in making wild claims, though in fairness, he does usually deliver. After all, this is the man which led the T-Mobile US business out of the shadows of irrelevance to a position where it is challenge the dominance of AT&T and Verizon.

However, you have to take such claims with a pinch of salt. The network will make use of the 600 MHz spectrum hording at T-Mobile US, allowing it to reach 200 million people with extended range, however there will be a compromise on speed. This spectrum will not deliver the eye-watering download speeds which have been promised in the 5G era.

This might be 5G, but not the 5G which many have been talking about. The spectrum in question was purchased in 2017, when T-Mobile US paid $7.9 billion for 1,525 regional 600 MHz licences. The assets are already powering the ‘Extended Range’ LTE service for the telco across 2,700 locations.

In conjunction with the launch of the 600 MHz powered 5G network, T-Mobile US is also making use of the mmWave airwaves in strategic locations. This spectrum will deliver the vastly superior download speeds, though with the 600 MHz spectrum aided to the mix, at least customers will be able to see the 5G logo on their screen more often.

Sharing, selling and standardizing – the great spectrum conundrum

With the World Radiocommunication Conference currently underway in Egypt, it’s timely to discuss some of the spectrum issues facing the industry today.

Spectrum is and will probably remain a hot-topic for the industry due to its critical importance. The success of a telco is partly defined by the spectrum licences it is able to horde, and depending on where you are in the world, the scarcity of these assets varies. That said, to describe anywhere as having an abundance would be foolish to say the least.

Starting with the idea of selling spectrum, this is a topic which is under constant debate, review and criticism.

“When you talk about spectrum, the price you have to pay always has an impact on the rollout strategy,” said Jasper Mikkelsen, Director of Public and Regulatory Affairs for the Telenor Group, during a panel session this week.

This is where the balancing act is at its finest. The regulators will argue they need to charge for access to spectrum for several reasons, but the price of spectrum is often the centre of criticism in various markets. Mikkelsen pointed out during the auctions in Thailand earlier this year, many of the spectrum assets went unsold due to the reserve prices assigned to the lots.

However, according to Donald Stockdale of the FCC, the complaints from telcos might have some merit. If spectrum is unsold at the end of the auction, this is most likely due to the auction being badly designed. Perhaps not enough was released, the channels hadn’t been cleared effectively, the reserve price was too high, or the obligations attached to the winning assets were deemed unreasonable by the telcos.

Telcos will always complain and point to markets where spectrum is effectively given away for free, however there are cases where they have a point. If such a valuable asset is remaining unsold, despite the pleas of telcos to free-up more spectrum, there is perhaps something wrong with the product itself.

What is worth noting is that the auction process is not perfect. There will always be complaints and criticism, though it is currently the least worst option. It is certainly better than the ‘beauty contest’ concept, which leaves the door wide open to corruption.

How to design and manage spectrum auctions is more of a ‘trial and error’ process, which will come as little comfort to those shelling out the investments, however the idea of standardising is something which should certainly be given more traction.

This will of course be a topic of conversation for at the World Radiocommunication Conference, especially concerning the higher frequency airwaves, though there is still a lot of work to do on the spectrum licenses which are already a hotch-potch of complexity.

While there is work being done to standardise spectrum across various different regions, this is a lot more complicated than just simply creating new rules. Bureaucrats have to deal with the dreading concept of legacy.

As Michael Sharpe, Director of Spectrum and Equipment Regulation at ETSI, pointed out there are 48 countries in Europe, all of which have been assigning spectrum to different usecases, products and services over the last few decades. Harmonisation is a topic of conversation now but unravelling the maze of red-tape which already exists in each of these nations is a very complex task.

First and foremost, there are some very attractive benefits from standardisation. In a region like Europe, the risk of interference is present, driving the case, while there are also be benefits driven through interoperability or economy of scale, however there will always be a downside.

Looking at Europe once again, the congestion of certain bands will vary depending on the demands of the nation, while the cost assigned to clearing these costs will certain vary quite considerably. Then you have to look at the idea of flexibility.

Politicians generally don’t like being told what to do, and they like it even less when it comes from bureaucrats over which they have very little influence. In designing a harmonised approach to spectrum allocation and usage, flexibility will need to be built into the process to ensure each nation can address the specific needs of dominant industries and the nuances of societal variance.

This is of course very difficult to judge the right balance, but it is a critical element not only to ensure economic prosperity in each of the nations, but to make sure the rules are adopted by the Governments in question. If it is too much of a hinderance or costs too much to clear the bands, who is to say these suggestions are not just simply ignored, these are sovereign states after all.

The final area which is attracting some attention out of the US is a spectrum sharing initiative out of the FCC.

Focusing specifically on the valuable 3.5 GHz spectrum band which is being championed in Europe to deliver the first 5G services, the FCC is trialling a dynamic spectrum sharing project. Known unofficially as the ‘Innovation Band’, it offers a palatable compromise between high-speed data transmission and extended coverage. However, the US has found itself in a bit of a pickle as the current incumbent on this spectrum band is the Navy.

The spectrum is currently utilised by the Navy in offshore radar operations, however it is not being used all the time, such is the nature of naval operations. For such valuable spectrum, this is largely viewed as a waste.

Stockdale highlighted the team has created a three-tier, demand-orientated system, where spectrum is utilised dependent on the presence of those in the tier above. The Navy has the right to use the band first and foremost, though when it become unutilised, mobile service providers can purchase licenses to gain access for the second tier. Should the Navy or the telcos not be making use of the spectrum, it can be assigned for general use for those approved in the third-tier.

Although this is only a trial for the moment, it demonstrates the point made above. Flexibility needs to be built into spectrum harmonisation initiatives, as it is unrealistic to repurpose this band in the US. The cost and effort are unlikely to be justifiable when you consider the size of the US Navy.

This is an excellent example of innovation when looking at spectrum, and regulators around the world should be paying attention to the lessons learned through this experiment. The idea of dynamic spectrum sharing could be huge if the fundamentals are validated here, such is the demand for this valuable and increasingly scarce resource.

This is of course not the only example of spectrum being repurposed in regions where it is not being utilised. In the UK, Ofcom has introduced rules which dictate unused spectrum must be released, assuming there is demand.

Vodafone recently announced it entered into a three-year agreement with StrattoOpencell to share the use of it 2.6 GHz spectrum assets to deliver connectivity in Devon. The spectrum licences are being used in highly-urbanised areas, but not in the countryside, therefore it is inefficient use of the asset without these rules from the regulator.

Although spectrum is a topic which has been the centre of many debates, it does appear it will be an ever-lasting ebb and flow. The World Radiocommunication Conference will likely free-up some more spectrum, but the TMT industry is very good at finding ways to use it. Scarcity is most likely going to persist, though there are some interesting conversations evolving to improve this niche of the mobile segment.

Ofcom announces 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8 GHz auction with no coverage obligations

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced that the next tranche of 5G frequencies will be made available to operators via an auction next year.

The spectrum consists of 80 MHz of 700 MHz band and 120 MHz in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. The 700 MHz is a lot more valuable to operators because it covers much greater distances than the higher frequency spectrum. Thus Ofcom is proposing a reserve price of up to £240 million per 2×5 MHz lot of that, compared to a reserve price of up to £25 million for each 5 MHz lot of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum. Four lots of 5 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum will also be auctioned for downlink-only.

The big news within the announcement is that Ofcom isn’t attaching any coverage obligations to any of the spectrum, apparently as a result of the deal struck with operators last week. Were it not for that the 700 MHz spectrum was expected to only be offered on the condition that whoever owned any of it committed to the kinds of arbitrary geographical coverage obligations that have become do politicised in recent years.

“We’re pressing ahead with plans to release vital airwaves to improve mobile services for customers,” said Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom. “Together with mobile companies’ commitments to improve coverage, this will help more areas get better services, and help the UK maintain its place as a leader in 5G.”

The mechanics of the auction will be similar to the 2018 one, which brought in an acceptable amount of cash for the government so it presumably felt no need to change it. The 37% cap on spectrum ownership still applies, which means EE can only win a maximum of 120 MHz, Three 185, and Vodafone 190. O2 has so little spectrum that it could buy the lot if it felt like it (see below). The auction will take place sometime next Spring.

India promises spectrum reform as telcos bemoan status quo

The Indian Government has promised it will reform the pricing structures of spectrum auctions over the coming months as telcos cast their eyes to the 5G horizon.

Speaking at the India Mobile Congress, Telecom Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad suggested a new wave of spectrum auctions would take place over the next 12 months, and much to the happiness of the telcos, the team will work to make it cheaper.

While numerous nations around the world have been pushing forward with their own spectrum auctions to ready economies for the 5G euphoria, India is one where progress has been incredibly sluggish. There have been attempts to get the ball rolling, however industry has pushed back due to the high base prices which were set by the Government.

In 2016, 2354.55 MHz of spectrum ranging across the 7 bands was auctioned off, with many of the telcos applying to participate. Unfortunately, the end result was only 40% of the licences being allocated, with price seemingly being the reason.

In 2017, another consultation process was launched by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), with the aim being to push out 5G spectrum and the unallocated assets from the 2016 edition. No further action was taken following the end of the consultation, with industry requesting the auction be pushed back.

The comments from Prasad might well be a watershed moment in the stalemate. It seems the Government was the first to twitch on the pricing conundrum.

Speaking at the same event, Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said, “while we stand committed to support the growth of the industry, we seek enabling regulatory environment to ensure that necessary investments are made.”

Reliance Jio board member Mahendra Nahata also suggested pricing for 5G spectrum should “critically looked at”. The general feeling appears to be the Government is not looking at the big picture, targeting revenues derived from spectrum sales in the short-term, instead of looking long-term at national economic growth which can be achieved through the continued progress being made in the connectivity world.

This is of course an equation which is difficult to balance. The telcos will always want to make sure they are paying as little as possible for spectrum licences and will promise the difference will be invested in network deployment. This is a reasonable assumption, though there is no way to prove charging less for spectrum licences would result in increased network deployment. The telco might well have spent the same but is trying to reduce expenditure.

Industry is of course perfectly entitled to push back against what it would perceive as pricing structures which are too expensive, but this will have a negative impact on the business and the nation. Pricing of spectrum is very difficult balance, as there is no rule which can be applied everywhere.

India is a very unique market, as while it has the second largest population of consumers worldwide, it does also have low ARPU and significant expenditure to make on network deployment.

While telcos moaning about the price of spectrum is nothing new to consider, a slight concession from the Indian Government is certainly a step in the right direction. There will be months of negotiation and research to understand what a suitable pricing structure actually is, but this is a much more promising sign that spectrum auctions in the near future will be successful.

France pushes forward with trials of much-hyped mmWave airwaves

Much has been spoken about the promise of mmWave spectrum bands, and France has announced 11 trials to separate the wheat from the chaff in 26 GHz.

Launched by Agnès Pannier-Runacher, France’s Secretary of State to the Minister for the Economy and Finance, and Sébastien Soriano, Chair of the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (Arcep), the trials will sweep the country, covering a handy number of different usecases, while also bringing in an attractive number of different technology companies.

It’s a comprehensive approach few other countries could match-up to. Interestingly enough, several of the projects are being led by enterprise companies, or organizations that do not specialise in telecommunications. To some, it might not sound like the most sensible approach, though it will ensure business demands are priority number one; the problem with telcos is that they specialise in telecommunications and very little else.

The first project will be led by Universcience, at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, and will focus on public engagement. The La Cité des sciences et de l’industrie 5G trial platform will showcase use cases to the public, through open events, as well as temporary and permanent exhibitions.

Although many in the general public would claim to have heard of 5G, few will actually understand what it is. Education programmes are critical not only to ensure the public is made aware of progress, but also to encourage the next generation into the STEM subjects. For any nation to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the 5G era, the skills gaps will have to be closed.

The second, at the Vélodrome National, will bring together Nokia, Qualcomm, Airbus and France Television to understand how 5G can aid sports media. Low latency and increased bandwidth will be key topics here, as will the integration of artificial intelligence for operational efficiency and augmented reality to improve consumer experience.

The third trial will pair Bordeaux Métropole, the local authority, with Bouygues Telecom and will aim to capitalise on public lighting networks to deploy new infrastructures.

The Port of Le Havre will lead the fourth trial alongside the Le Havre Seine Métropole urban community, Siemens, EDF and Nokia. This initiative will explore 5G applications in a port and industry-related environments, with use-cases such as operating smart grids and recharging electric vehicles.

At the Nokia Paris-Saclay campus, trials will be conducted in a real-world environment, both indoors and outdoors, thanks to Nokia 5G antennae installed at different heights on the rooftops, and in work areas. This project also includes a start-up incubator programme.

The Paris La Défense planning development agency and its partners have submitted another interesting usecase. With 5G CAPEX budget strained already, the Government department will test the feasibility and viability of owning infrastructure and selling turnkey access to operators. This might erode coverage advantages which some telcos might seek, though in assuming ownership (and the cost) of network deployment, the 5G journey might well be a bit smoother in France.

The seventh trial will pair Bouygues Telecom with France’s national rail company, SNCF, at the Lyon Part-Dieu train station. Tests will focus on consumer applications, such as VR and AR, as well as how transportation companies can make best use of data and connectivity to enhance operations. The eighth trial will also be led by Bouygues Telecom, focusing on industrial IOT in the city of Saint-Priest.

Orange will oversee two trials at part of the wider scheme, with the first taking place in Rennes railway station with SNCF and Nokia. Once again, part of this trial will focus on consumer applications, making waiting a ‘more pleasant experience’, with the rest focusing on industrial applications such as remote maintenance using augmented reality.

The second Orange trial will focus on various 5G use cases in heavily trafficked areas, such as enhanced multimedia experiences for people on the move and cloud gaming. This trial is supposed to be generic, and another opportunity for start-ups to pitch and validate their ideas in a live lab.

“The 26GHz spectrum band will allow us to explore new services based on 5G,” said Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Orange. “We are aiming to set-up experimental platforms that will stimulate collaboration on these new use-cases across all economic sectors.”

With the spectrum licenses live from October 7, the trials are now officially up-and-running. Each of the projects must have a live network operational by January 2021 at the latest and have to make it available to third parties to perform their own 5G trials.

This is perhaps one of the most interesting schemes worldwide not only because of the breadth and depth of the usecases being discussed, but the variety of companies which are being brought into the fray. Although the telco industry does constantly discuss the broadening of the ecosystem, realistically the power resides with a small number of very influential vendors.

This is a complaint which does seem to be attracting more headlines at the moment. If you look at the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) being championed by Facebook, the aim is to commoditise the hardware components in the network, while decoupling them from software. Ultimately, the project is driving towards a more open and accessible ecosystem.

France’s initiative here could have the same impact. By designating enterprise companies and local municipalities as leaders in the projects, instead of the same old telcos and vendors, new ideas and new models have the potential to flourish. This looks like a very positive step forward for the French digital economy.

Three gives forgotten child 4G some much-needed attention

With 5G networks being switched on left, right and centre, let’s not forget 4G experience is still going to be the major concern of the vast majority of users for a long-time to come.

In its pursuit of a more established ranking in the UK mobile league, Three has announced a number of initiatives to improve the 4G experience for its customers. 5G might dominate the headlines, but 4G is going to dictate the fortunes of the telcos for some time.

“5G is a game changer for Three’s current and future customers. It will bring faster speeds, a better experience and masses of capacity which will benefit our 4G customers as well,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “While we are investing heavily in 5G, 4G is still very important for our mobile and home broadband services.

“These upgrades will ensure that our data hungry customers are getting the best possible 4G experience as 5G rolls out.”

The two initiatives announced here will continue to build the 4G experience for customers. Firstly, the introduction of new spectrum and site upgrades. Secondly, the re-farming of 3G spectrum to further bolster the armoury in the fight for 4G supremacy.

6,000 mobile sites, which account for 80% of the traffic which flows across the Three network, will get an upgrade. These upgrades, which will run alongside the 5G deployment initiatives, will include new antennas and new spectrum. Three is claiming the introduction of 1400 MHz spectrum should increase download speeds by 150%, assuming of course you have the right device.

Although the range of compatible devices is quite large, a simpler way to describe it would be any device which has been released in the last 12-18 months. For those who have older devices, Three suggests the download speed gain could be as much as 50%. It’s not necessarily a mind-blowing number in comparison to others which are floating around the mobile domain, but it would certainly make a notable impact on experience.

The second initiative involves the 3G spectrum. All of the telcos are undertaking the process of re-farming 3G spectrum for higher purposes, but Three does seem to be leading the way. As part of the announcement today, Three is suggesting 12,500 sites will see speed improvements of up to 40% as 3G spectrum is handed over to 4G.

Looking at the bigger picture, none of the telcos can forget about 4G. 5G might be much more attractive to the consumer (the bigger, meaner, faster mentality is very strong), but for years to come the 4G networks will continue to define user experience.

Firstly, you have to look at the adoption of 5G tariffs. This will of course depend on the user purchasing an expensive 5G-compatible device, but then also signing-up to a 5G contract. It will take time for this migration to occur, and we suspect it will be years before economies of scale bring down the price of the devices, opening the euphoria up to the mass market.

Secondly, you have to consider how long it will be until the telcos are demonstrate ubiquity for their 5G networks. Not only does this mean upgrading all mobile sites across the country, but it also means network densification initiatives to compensate for shorter spectrum range and mobile radio propagation. The work to ensure the 5G world is everywhere, all the time, is only just beginning.

Both of these factors mean 4G will be just as, or more important than 5G over the next few years. 5G might generate headlines, but 4G will continue to drive revenues.

GSMA lobbies for more and cheaper spectrum

Ahead of WRC-19 mobile industry lobbying group the GSMA has lobbied on behalf of the mobile industry.

The main concern of the GSMA, and thus we can assume the global mobile industry, is access to plenty of licensed spectrum at reasonable prices. The ITU’s 19th World Radiocommunication Conference will take place in November, but lobbying groups are getting organised well ahead of time. While the cost and availability of spectrum is a perennial issue, the advent of 5G makes it arguably more important than ever.

The GSMA has opened two lobbying fronts in this case. The first involved an open letter loftily headed ‘Delivering the greatest value for society at WRC-19’. As indicated the letter conflates the progress of 5G with that of civilization itself and warns that any failure to heed the GSMA’s wishes could have dire societal consequences.

The second initiative took the form of a report that concludes ‘High spectrum prices leave millions unconnected’. Once more the fortunes of its members are intimately associated with the progress of mankind, as the GSMA opens its presentation of the award by saying ‘the negative impacts of high spectrum prices on consumers can no longer be disputed.’

“Spectrum auctions can’t be viewed as cash cows anymore,” said Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum at the GSMA. “Any government that prices spectrum to maximise revenue now does so with full knowledge that its actions will have negative repercussions on citizens and the development of mobile services. We now have clear evidence that shows by restricting the financial ability of operators to invest in mobile networks millions of consumers are suffering.”

The GSMA is in danger of laying it on too thick with these two attempts to pressure the powers that be into making it cheaper for its members to get hold of all-important spectrum. The negative impacts of doing otherwise can and will be disputed, while appeals to philanthropy are a bit rich coming from such an affluent and profitable industry.

Having said that there are many good arguments in favour of freeing up spectrum and not allowing them to be a public sector cash grab every few years. There’s no way it costs governments and regulators the amount of money they extort from operators in spectrum licenses to manage them and in its unsubtle way the GSMA seems to be saying that if you want to service your people, try being a bit more helpful about keeping them connected.

GSMA pushes the case for 26 GHz ahead of WRC-19

In an open-letter to representatives of 170 governments ahead of the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference in November, the GSMA has pressed the case for 5G in the mmWave spectrum bands.

At the conference, taking place in Egypt, Government Ministers and executives of regulatory authorities will decide the fate of 5G in the 26, 40 and 66 GHz spectrum bands. These spectrum bands have been hotly-discussed for ultra-high capacity and ultra-high-speed services, though there have been discerning voices.

The criticism which has seemed to gain traction from some US politicians is from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which suggest 5G in the high frequency bands will impact the accuracy of weather forecasts.

“Identifying mmWave spectrum for mobile requires careful consideration. That is why the industry has been so actively involved at the ITU over the past four years of technical study of these frequencies,” the letter states.

“The methodical analysis undertaken by governments and industry through the ITU process has demonstrated that mobile can safely operate in these bands without causing harm to other spectrum-using services.”

The GSMA has also warned government agencies on taking the impact on weather forecasts too seriously, stating the officials should base their decisions on ‘sound science’. It seems to be a cheap shot, but as the conference draws closer, we suspect more vicious barbs will be thrown towards the spectrum rivals.

An interesting undertone to this is the impact to global harmonisation of spectrum. This has always been a concern of the GSMA, as it will impact the inner workings of the 5G ecosystem. A regionalised approach to the delivery of 5G is not a perfect outcome, especially when this generation of mobile technology was supposed to be a demonstration of collaboration.

That said, evidence of fragmentation is already exists.

In the US, the general approach to 5G delivery has been through the mmWave spectrum bands, though Europe is seemingly favouring the mid-band spectrum. The European approach does seem to be more effective for the moment, mid-band spectrum marries a palatable compromise between increased speeds and a tolerable range of coverage. US 5G enthusiasts might be able to get eye-watering speeds, though they will have to be stood very close to a base station.