GSMA: Operators need prime spectrum to fulfill 5G potential

The GSMA has warned governments and regulators that without sufficient access to spectrum and the creation of favourable market conditions, mobile operators will struggle to deliver the true promise of 5G.

The industry body has stepped up its lobbying efforts a year before the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC), publishing a policy paper outlining its demands and recommendations.

The quadrennial WRC is organised by the UN-affiliated International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and sees frequencies allocated on a global scale with each country getting a vote.

The WRC is a crucial event for all industries that rely on wireless spectrum - not just mobile - as outcomes can have a long-lasting impact, especially since bands can take years to clear and repurpose.


5G networks will use multiple spectrum bands, each of which offers different characteristics to support various applications. Aside from faster mobile broadband services, 5G will power new use cases such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connected cars.

Auctions of 5G bandwidth have already started but the GSMA fears that differing approaches and regulatory environments could result in disparities in service between country to country. In the UK, Ofcom has sold 3.4GHz airwaves, while there plans in the works for a 700MHz auction, whereas other countries have sold a mix of mid and high range spectrum.

The GSMA urged governments and regulators to ensure there is sufficient spectrum in sub-1GHz bands for mobile broadband coverage, mid-range bands such as 3.5GHz for capacity and mmWave bands (above 24GHz) for fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband services.

It also wants the 26 GHz, 40 GHz (37-43.5 GHz) and 66-71 GHz mmWave bands to be allocated for the mobile industry and has urged regulators to avoid setting spectrum aside for specific industries.

Spectrum harmonisation, the GSMA says, will minimise interference, enable cross-border services and allow for economies of scale and lower-cost devices.

The paper also warns against the inflation of 5G spectrum prices through measures such as high auction reserve prices. It argues that should spectrum be too expensive, then operators will have less capital to invest in infrastructure and services and consumers would be burdened with higher prices.

“Operators urgently need more spectrum to deliver the endless array of services that 5G will enable - our 5G future depends heavily on the decisions governments are making in the next year as we head into WRC-19,” said Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA.

“Without strong government support to allocate sufficient spectrum to next generation mobile services, it will be impossible to achieve the global scale that will make 5G affordable and accessible for everyone. There is a real opportunity for innovation from 5G, but this hinges on governments focusing on making enough spectrum available, not maximising auction revenues for short term gains.” 

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.