Why it’s Crucial to Assign Spectrum for 5G
The last week of August 2018 brought with it the conclusion of ITU-R Task Group 5/1 (TG 5/1) — the group charged with conducting compatibility studies and preparing the Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM) Report text for 2019 WRC Agenda Item, 1.13, on making spectrum available for use by International Mobile Telecommunications 2020 (IMT 2020), also known as terrestrial 5G.
Agenda Item 1.13 states: This agenda item relates to consideration of identification of frequency bands for the future development of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), including possible additional allocations to the mobile service on a primary basis, in accordance with Resolution 238 [COM6/20] (WRC-15). It calls for studies on frequency-related matters for IMT identification including possible additional allocations to the mobile services on a primary basis in portion(s) of the frequency range between 24.25 and 86 GHz.
Now that TG 5/1 has completed its work and its report is final, it is important to look at what is contained in this portion of the CPM text and what administrations should consider as they move towards WRC 2019 and are looking to enable a global 5G world.
In order to find the answer to this important question, it is critical to take a look at the development of 5G and what 5G is expected to be. It is clear from the development occurring at standards bodies, such as 3GPP, and technology developments in the industry, that for 5G to meet its goals it will need to be a network of networks. This means that, unlike 3G, for instance, 5G will not be made up of a single technology; it will be comprised of a variety of communications technologies including mobile and fixed wireless, satellite, microwave, and others. Only through a combination of communications technologies will 5G be able to achieve its lofty goals of high-speed, anytime, anywhere communications that are reliable. In fact, cutting out any technologies would inhibit 5G from meeting its lofty goals. However, most experts agree that the primary technology for 5G, like it has been for generations of wireless communications services before it, will be mobile wireless. It is for this reason that Agenda Item 1.13 was created at the WRC; there was a recognition among administrations that there must be made available sufficient spectrum to support the increasing demand for the services that terrestrial mobile wireless will need to support in a 5G world.
However, as noted in Agenda Item 1.13, the assignment of spectrum solely for terrestrial mobile 5G was not the only purpose of this agenda item. The 2015 WRC expressly noted that these bands were to be studied were to take into account the protection of incumbent services, including ones, such as the fixed service and the fixed satellite service, which will also play an important role in 5G. This was based on the importance of these services both on a stand-alone basis but also as part of the future 5G network.
TG 5/1 with carried out technical compatibility studies in a significant number of frequency bands above 24 GHz and produced CPM text with these results. With the task group finished with its work, it is an appropriate time to see what they found. Overall, there was little consensus on the bands that should be made available for 5G and under what conditions. However, in many cases, TG 5/1 did make similar observations. For example, the TG 5/1 found that sharing, in some cases was possible, but that some protections might be required to protect incumbent services. For example, while it was noted that sharing with the fixed satellite service was possible for large earth stations, it was also noted that some technical protections were needed. Similarly, in some cases, the task group noted that for some incumbent uses of the bands analyzed, sharing might not be possible. This was the case, for instance, with fixed satellite user terminals that would be ubiquitously deployed in the same geographic areas as 5G terrestrial mobile wireless. Accordingly, what the CPM text shows is that there is a will to make some of the spectrum studied available for 5G, but that in most cases there is a need for some protections. In addition, there was also a recognition that protections on a national basis may be appropriate, that might impact the international harmonization that radio services require.
Where does this lead administrations to conclude, then? It appears that what the CPM text from TG 5/1 is actually calling for is balance. A need for administrations, as they prepare for the CPM meeting and WRC 19 to look at the needs of the mobile wireless industry to provide services, but also the importance of uses of the same spectrum used by incumbent services, many of whom, such as the fixed satellite service, will play an important role in 5G services by providing, for instance, the reliability and ubiquity need for 5G. To this end, these administrations must also recognize the importance of the need to ensure that international spectrum harmonization is not available only for 5G terrestrial mobile wireless services, but that all services, including satellite, benefit greatly from harmonization. Accordingly, leaving protections for incumbent services to national administrations may result in not having access to incumbent services that are critical to the successful deployment of the 5G network of networks that governments crave for their citizens.
We are almost a year away from the 2019 WRC and just a handful of months away from the CPM meeting. We are at a critical juncture for administrations as they prepare their positions. The TG 5/1 Report should lead administrations to taking a balanced approach to making spectrum available for 5G; of course they must make available global spectrum for terrestrial mobile wireless, but, as the CPM Report shows, they also must ensure that incumbent services have the protections they need both domestically and internationally to also be a part of the global 5G network and bring services that will benefit users, wherever they are located.
Jennifer A. Manner is senior vice president of EchoStar and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of EchoStar or Georgetown University Law Center.