Spectrum – The leading edge of the 5G Gold Rush

5G is leading to a new ecosystem of devices and services, enabling much higher speed and lower latency transmission to support increased levels of video content, connected cars and Internet of Things (IoT).

For this tall order, mobile carriers will need to exploit frequency assets across a range of bands – low frequencies for coverage, mid-band for higher capacity and urban coverage, and high band (mmWave) for super hot spot and very high capacity mobility over short distances.

Spectrum is the way 5G will be delivered, so finding spectrum assets for 5G is the leading edge of development and a key enabler for future services.

Recognizing this, in its November 2016 “Strategic Roadmap Towards 5G for Europe” the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) of the European Commission identified three key bands for 5G: 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz MHz and 26 GHz.

The 700 MHz band – the second “digital dividend” – has already been identified for auctioning across Europe by 2020. Other than France and Germany, processes are pending in most countries.

The 3.6 GHz MHz range was identified by RSPG as having the potential of putting Europe at the forefront of 5G deployment.

In the US, the FCC also sees a “trifecta” of bands, but focusing on low band 600 MHz following the recent Incentive Auction process, and 28 GHz and 39 GHz in the mmWave range.

In the 3.5 GHz range, 100 MHz has been identified by the FCC for an auction process, including shared and dedicated licenses, creating potential for a common band (or portion of the band) globally.

The FCC has a full agenda for future auctions and is planning for an auction of 3.5 GHz licenses as well as a future process focused on mmWave.

A consultation was recently initiated in Canada for mmWave looking at 28 GHz, 38 GHz and the license-exempt 64-71 GHz range.

The 3.6 GHz range in particular is a prime candidate for 5G; less complicated for licensing than Sub-1 GHz spectrum and better propagation compared to mmWave. It provides for up to 400 MHz of new spectrum capacity, covering LTE Bands 42 (3400-3600 MHz) and 43 (3600-3800 MHz). And the allocations overlap in whole or in part with those in many parts of the world, including China, Japan and Korea.

In many countries, licenses were issued in 3.6 GHz for fixed wireless access service. These licenses expire at various times from 2018 onwards, typically, creating a near-term opportunity to reallocate and auction these for 5G.

Ireland was first out of the blocks to issue licenses in the 3.6 GHz range specifically targeted for 5G mobile. 350 MHz of licensed capacity was issued increasing mobile spectrum by 86%, with each of the three MNO’s winning in the range of 80-100 MHz each and setting a new valuation benchmark.

LYA advised a bidder in the Irish auction.

Many other processes focused on 3.6 GHz, in many cases along with other bands, have been initiated, including in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Romania. And on July 6, 2017, a Consultation on a National 5G Plan was initiated in Spain. This includes consideration of 700 MHz, 26 GHz and other bands, notably the 3.4-3.8 GHz range.

The UK has an auction pending for 3.4 GHz licenses, and has an established policy for use of 3.6-3.8 GHz. And a consultation is underway in Australia focused on increasing priority for licensing of 3.6 GHz. The band is also under consideration in New Zealand and the Philippines.

In the US, the FCC initiated a proceeding on 3.5 GHz in June 2017 following petitions by CTIA and T Mobile requesting, among other things, changes to the shared aspects of the FCC proposals. T Mobile in particular also proposed increasing the amount of spectrum to be made available in the range.

5G is the new frontier.

Spectrum is the leading edge of the 5G gold rush and with near global potential, the 3.6 GHz range will be a key enabler and focus for the flurry of upcoming auctions.

LYA provides Auction Consulting Services to bidders in spectrum auctions and brings expertise in Combinatorial Clock Auctions, SMRA auctions and experience with complex processes including the US Incentive Auction.

Our services range from providing support in public consultations via expert evidence, research, drafting of filings, to development of spectrum business plans and valuation, to support during the auction process itself. This includes management training, mock auctions, auction simulations and bid room support, including round tracking tools.

LYA’s independently developed secure Auction Platform is also available for regulators and for private sellers of spectrum assets.