Mobile Industry Confident Ahead Of Global Spectrum Conference

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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GSMA says there is still much to do before WRC-15, which will allocate spectrum on a global scale, starts next month

The GSMA says it has made significant progress in securing enough spectrum for the mobile industry ahead of the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15) next month, but says there is still much to do before the event gets underway on November 2.

The organisation says WRC-15, organised by the UN-affiliated International Telecommunications Union (ITU), will be a “key” moment in the history of mobile as it will determine how the world’s spectrum resources are allocated on a global scale.

Each country gets a vote, so the GSMA has spent much of the past year lobbying governments and regulator, arguing that if the mobile industry does not get the spectrum it needs to support the anticipated growth in demand for 3G and 4G services before 2020, consumers and businesses could suffer.

Getting enough bandwdith

telecoms“If there isn’t enough spectrum, mobile operators can deploy more cells or offload onto Wi-Fi but they’re already doing that,” Roberto Ercole, senior director of Long-Term Spectrum at the GSMA, told TechWeekEurope. “They won’t be able to live their lives as they’ve become accustomed to. At some point, consumers will find they aren’t getting the service they expect and want. Unless spectrum is identified now, they will be constrained.”

Specifically, the GSMA is targeting airwaves between 470MHz and 698MHz, L-band frequencies located between 1300 and 1518MHz, the 2.7 – 2.9GHz band and ‘C Band’ spectrum between 3.4GHz and 4.2GHz. Around 1000MHz of spectrum is currently allocated for mobile services, but the GSMA says another 600-800MHz needs to be allocated by the ITU.

However the mobile industry must compete with others, such as broadcast and satellite for this bandwidth, hence the need for negotiations.

Spectrum momentum

“We’ve been having quite a few conversations with governments and regulators in different regions,” Herman Schepers, senior director at GSMA’s Global Spectrum Campaign explained. “We’ve had the final regional ITU meetings where we sit with governments and regulators, and broadcasters and satellite operators, and look at the best way forward for getting more spectrum allocated for mobile.

“We’re seeing some fantastic momentum with the L-band and it’s becoming really close to becoming a globally harmonised band.”

Regional differences will play a key role in how WRC-15 plays out. In Europe, there is broad support for 3.4-3.6GHz, but the continent is less keen on harmonising sub-700MHz whereas other regions are more eager. However the GSMA says many countries will follow the lead of bigger ones and national stances could change as the conference “takes a life of its own.”

5G future

5G - Shutterstock © glossyplastic“I think the regional positions are an indication of how things might go,” continued Schepers. “It’s not set in stone, not at all. From our perspective that’s a good thing. We’ve made good momentum but there’s still a lot to do.”

“It’s quite a complex process,” added Ercole. “You don’t agree things sequentially, it’s all done in one go.

“At the end of the day, everything is a compromise. If you get one thing you might not get something else. People look towards [big countries like] India and the US – they carry more weight.”

Once WRC-15 has concluded, attentions will turn to the next edition of the conference in 2019. With 5G set to launch commercially in 2020, the next generation of mobile networks will be the main topic of conversation. But despite the current focus on 3G and 4G, the GSMA isn’t forgetting 4G.

“At this conference we have an agenda item for spectrum for above 6GHz for 5G,” said Schepers. “Countries need to agree which bands specifically are going to be studied.

“2020 is going to be with us sooner than many of us realise.”

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