As 5G deployments gather pace in all geographies, the service providers are realizing the growing relevance of 6GHz spectrum band for growing the network capacity to deliver on the promise of 5G.
“In the future we will target the 6GHz band as we see it very important for our future capacity needs and growth in Europe. The upper part of the 6GHz band is available which we believe is ideal for network operators to evolve network capacity beyond 2028 and 2030. In the future we do believe that 6GHz will complement our 3.5GHz spectrum asset,” says Nadia Benabdallah, Network Strategy and Engineering Director, Vodafone at the recently concluded Mobile Broadband Forum 2021.
Vodafone, one of the world’s largest service providers, has publicly supported using the 6GHz spectrum for growing the 5G ecosystem. In the past, Vodafone Chief Technology Officer Johann Wibergh referred to the sub-6GHz spectrum as a "sweet spot for 5G."
"It is generally predicted that video will form a large proportion of mobile traffic in the future. People tend to consume video when they are indoors or while in moving vehicles. Therefore, two key factors in the choice of frequency are the ability to penetrate into buildings from outdoor base stations and to support mobility. Both of these factors favour a frequency closer to 6GHz than 100GHz," says Vodafone’s response as part of Ofcom’s call for input on `Spectrum above 6 GHz for future mobile communications.’
Vodafone’s position is in line with other industry stakeholders. Earlier this year, the GSMA trade group issued a statement about the crucial importance of the 6Ghz spectrum for 5G. “5G has the potential to boost the world’s GDP [Gross Domestic Product] by $2.2 trillion. But there is a clear threat to this growth if sufficient 6Ghz spectrum is not made available for 5G. Clarity and certainty are essential to fostering the massive, long-term investments in this critical infrastructure,” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer for the GSMA.
The trade organization believes that spectrum regulators must ensure at least 1 to 2GHz of total spectrum for 5G to meet users’ demand through 2030. And a large chunk of that spectrum should come from the 6Ghz band, as per GSMA.
The mobile industry and the WiFi stakeholders are at loggerheads for the coveted 6Ghz spectrum band. Recently, spectrum regulators in several countries have set aside a 6Ghz spectrum for WiFi.
European Union (EU) has recently released 480MHz of 6GHz spectrum to WiFi earlier this year. As 5G ecosystem continues to grow and it is clear that 6GHz is crucial for the 5G to grow and thrive, more 6GHz spectrum should be made available to the service providers so they are able to provide high-speed connectivity to people in the remote areas.
Why is 6GHz spectrum critical for 5G?
The mobile industry believes it requires a mid-band spectrum to meet the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data speed requirements. The non-availability of additional spectrum will make it difficult for the industry to realize the full potential of 5G.
Most of the world’s commercial 5G networks use a 3.3GHz-3.8GHz mid-band spectrum. While 5G on low bands can provide wider coverage, the service providers need mid-band to ensure high capacity. This is particularly required for advanced 5G use cases like connected cars and industry 4.0, that demand ultra-high-speed and greater capacity. The 6GHz spectrum can help the service providers address the growing data demand in future as well.
The spectrum in the mid-band is also crucial to bring down the carbon emissions and make 5G more affordable. This is in line with the findings of a global study of 36 cities conducted by GSMA. The Coleago Consulting study says that the total cost will be “three to five times higher over a decade in cities where a deficit of 800-1000 MHz would increase the number of base stations needed and increase deployment costs in each city by $782 million to $5.8 billion.”
The mid-band spectrum will improve the Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) experience and cover more base stations with the same resources. This will provide a fibre-like high-speed network experience while improving the cost economics for the telcos. Potentially, this promises to bridge the digital divide by making it easier for telcos to provide 5G in remote and yet-to-be-connected areas. In addition, the spectrum will play a crucial role in allowing mobile operators to deliver the ITU targets of 100Mbps download speed and 50Mbps upload speeds.
Policymakers must listen to industry stakeholders
In line with the growing relevance of mid-spectrum, the GSMA has asked the regulators to make an average of 2GHz of spectrum available in 2025-2030 and support harmonized mid-band 5G spectrum (within 3.5Ghz, 4.8GHz and 6GHz) and facilitate technology upgrade in existing bands.
Further, 23 global vendors, industry organizations and service providers, including GSMA, Ericsson, Huawei, Telefonica, Orange, ECTA or ETNO, among others, came together to ask regulators to reserve the mid-band spectrum for 5G. They issued a joint statement to urge the policymakers to reserve the spectrum around 6GHz for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) technologies, primarily 5G use only.
The 6GHz spectrum promises to play a crucial role in developing the 5G ecosystem, which is the need of the hour as our dependence on high-speed broadband has increased in the post-COVID era. The onus is then on the regulators to provide the required 6GHz spectrum to the Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to help cost-effectively expand high-speed 5G coverage to benefit more people.
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