GSMA Warns Mobile Industry Needs More Spectrum To Meet Rising Demand

4G (c) De Mango, Shutterstock 2013

GSMA says 600-800MHz worth of bandwidth needs to be allocated by the ITU if the mobile industry is going to keep up with a tenfold increase in traffic

The GSMA has warned that the mobile industry will not be able to meet an anticipated tenfold increase in traffic by the end of the decade if more spectrum is not allocated to it at next year’s World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15).

The organisation says WRC-15, organised by the UN-affiliated International Telecommunications Union, 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 will spend much of the next year lobbying governments and regulators on behalf of the mobile industry.

Mobile Band Aid

Herman Schepers GSMA“Where we expect to be by 2020, we’re really looking at a spectrum shortfall,” the GSMA’s Herman Schepers, senior director at GSMA’s Global Spectrum Campaign (left) told TechWeekEurope. “What we’re campaigning for is a fair allocation of spectrum.”

It is estimated that 1000MHz worth of spectrum has already been allocated for mobile, but the GSMA believes the average market will need an additionally 600-800MHz in high and low bands that can offer a combination of capacity and range.

Specifically, it is targeting airwaves between 470MHz and 698MHz, L-band frequencies located between 1300 and 1518MHz, the 2.7 – 2.9GHz band and spectrum between 3.4GHz and 4.2GHz. The 3.4GHz band is currently used to power Relish’s high speed wireless broadband network in central London.

Roberto Ercole, senior director of Long-Term Spectrum at the GSMA (below), said in theory this allocation could happen without the ITU’s involvement, but by ensuring this allocation happens in every country around the world, spectrum can be harmonised and equipment will become cheaper because of economies of scale.

“[The conference] sets the direction for the industry to do the research and it also sets the path forward for governments to make these bands available,” he said. “It sends such a strong signal to industry, governments and regulators that it is a key point and if we miss it and sets the industry back another eight years. By then we could find some markets are very short of spectrum.”

Not for 5G

Roberto Ercole GSMAIn many countries, attention has turned towards the development of 5G and networks powering the Internet of Things (IoT), but the spectrum the GSMA is targeting is intended to support existing 3G and 4G services as they expand across the world.

“The spectrum we’re targeting is to provide coverage and capacity for the mobile phones we have now – 3G and LTE,” said Ercole. “What we’re seeing is a move from 2G and even first generation 3Gto HSPA and LTE in many markets.”

Spectrum reallocation can get very political, especially when other industries are keen to ensure their interests are being defended. Separately, the GSMA is working to open up the 700MHz band currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) in many states, including Freeview in the UK.

Ofcom has committed to making 700MHz available, causing broadcasters to argue that DTT provides better value for money than 4G. The regulator says its plans won’t necessitate another ‘digital switchover’ but the issue remains controversial.

Balancing act

The GSMA recognises that it’s a balancing act as many regulators have to manage a number of industries’ demands and ensure there is enough bandwidth for public sector uses and defence. But it says many of the allocations were made in the last century, well before mobile phones and later mobile data became mainstream technologies.

“I think regulators are in a difficult position. We’ve seen the value of spectrum grow from auction values but even from economic value, as Ofcom and others have shown in terms of jobs and growth,” said Ecole. “When the systems were first designed and awarded, mobile wasn’t a mass market product. That’s the difficulty. You’ve had this huge change since the 1990s in that mobiles have become mass market and now mobile data is mass market.”

TV, Video © Ensuper Shutterstock 2012He said most governments are aware of the importance of managing a finite resource like spectrum but there have been many difficulties over the years, especially when it comes to television.

“It varies. Some administrations are more aware of it, some of the bigger ones because they have more people,” explained Ercole. “But even in some of the big administrations, sometimes you talk about high level principles they’re ok with it but when you talk about specifics and bands things can become quite difficult.

“For example, UHF is used by the broadcasters and that’s a very sensitive issue. So even though in 2007 and 2012 you could have suggested some of the UHF should be used for mobile, but that was a difficult issue for Europe in particular and you’re seeing the same sort of thing now.”

Ofcom active

“We’re certainly very aware of the interests of the other parties involved and we’re very open to conversations with other industries,” added Schepers.

Ofcom claims to have identified enough spectrum to increase the UK’s mobile capacity by ‘up to 25 times’ by 2030 and will start by auctioning some of the Ministry of Defence’s 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz airwaves as early as next year. The sale of 4G spectrum in 2013 was the ‘biggest ever’ in the UK, but how does the British regulator compare with its international counterparts?

“The amount of spectrum Ofcom has awarded is quite high,” said Ercole, who notes that possibly only the Nordic countries have made more available. “I think Ofcom has done well in identifying spectrum, but if you think of the amount of spectrum people use for mobile when it was just GSM voice was 9.6Kbps and now people are watching films at 2 or 3Mbps, you have to move to keep on board with that.”


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