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GSMA: 5G at risk if governments don't get their acts together

Spectrum uncertainty giving mobe industry the chills

By Richard Chirgwin, 15 Nov 2016

The mobile industry's global lobby, the GSMA, is starting to worry about fragmentation in the 5G market – even before there is one.

There are already hints at disunity in the spectrum market, with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) yet to settle regional arguments about spectrum, while vendors and carriers run well ahead of standards.

At the Brooklyn 5G Summit earlier this year, AT&T warned that operator pre-standard deployments are putting 5G standardisation under pressure.

The long-running dispute over which, if any, proposal for LTE/Wi-Fi convergence is acceptable brought different spectrum factions into sharp relief.

So it's with good cause that the GSMA has decided 5G needs to be settled soon.

Earlier this year, it published this position paper (PDF) to set out what it believes is needed, namely:

  • New and harmonised spectrum;
  • Spectrum allocations below 1 GHz, between 1 GHz and 6 GHz and above 6 GHz;
  • A focus on licensed spectrum, with unlicensed spectrum to play a complementary role, and coexistence models in higher frequency bands (for example, beyond 24 GHz where satellite and fixed links both have spectrum allocations.

That paper also called for governments to get the issues sorted out in the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference – but it now seems worried that things are moving at the usual glacial pace of international spectrum coordination.

The GSMA's issued a follow-up statement saying without enough harmonised spectrum, 5G won't achieve the speeds people have been led to expect.

Roaming is also at risk without harmonisation, the GSMA says; multi-band devices will be more expensive if they have to support more frequency bands; and there's the risk of cross-border interference.

In other words, governments could make a mess of the whole thing – although the GSMA's chief regulatory officer John Guisti is too diplomatic to put it that way: “It is essential that sufficient new mobile spectrum is made available – and that operators are allowed to repurpose existing spectrum for 5G when required. Governments are central to the WRC-19 process to identify harmonised spectrum for 5G and incentivise the necessary network investment”, he says in the statement. ®

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