5G development at risk if radio spectrum is not properly allocated - GSMA warning

Mobile association calls on governments to release adequate spectrum at right price.
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5G requires adequate allocation and specific frequencies to be able to realise maximum impact, says the GSMA.

The GSMA has warned that the rollout of 5G is at risk if governments do not release the right amount and type of radio spectrum.

The association, which represents mobile operators and mobile equipment vendors, said that the successful roll out of 5G is dependent on adequate spectrum being allocated at affordable prices.

The GSMA has called on governments, regulators and the mobile industry to work together to deliver widespread coverage, and the full potential of 5G for everyone.

According to the ‘GSMA Public Policy Position on 5G Spectrum,' governments around the world have started to auction spectrum for 5G networks, but variations in how much spectrum has been assigned, the onerous conditions imposed - and the cost of access to that spectrum - means the speed, reach and quality of 5G services could vary dramatically between countries. Early adopter countries will be the first to realise the significant benefits of 5G - from fibre-like mobile broadband speeds and smarter cities to autonomous cars and digitised factories - and stand to reap important socio-economic benefits including GDP growth. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that there will be 1.3 billion 5G connections by 2025, but this will be dependent on operators gaining access to sufficient spectrum. 

"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."

The GSMA positioning statement outlines several key considerations for governments and regulators, including the need for wider frequency band allocations to operators to support higher speed and greater traffic; spectrum availability in three key frequencies to deliver the right mix of use cases, capacity and coverage; and support for specific spectrum bands to ensure that devices can be standardized on those bands, to support international roaming and minimize cross-border interference.

The statement also calls on governments and regulators not to inflate 5G spectrum prices, which may lead to operators under-investing in network roll out and increasing the cost of services to users.

The GSMA also asks regulators to avoid setting aside spectrum for verticals in key mobile spectrum bands; sharing approaches, such as leasing, are better options where vertical industries require access to spectrum.

"Governments and regulators have a major role to play in ensuring that consumers get the best outcome from 5G," added Tarnutzer. "Once spectrum is allocated to mobile at WRC, licensing that spectrum at a national level, as history has shown, can take up to 10 years. Therefore, it is essential that governments take the right action now."

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