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Intelligence Brief: Assessing recent spectrum developments

Spectrum is the lifeblood of mobile services and what drives the mobile economy. The current spectrum landscape is more dynamic than ever before as the ecosystem today must contend with new allocation and deployment models, enterprise competition for resources and fresh demands on existing 2G and 3G spectrum resources.

Across the mobile industry and beyond, getting the right intelligence is key to understanding spectrum dynamics, which is why GSMA Intelligence has launched a new quarterly report series, leveraging its Spectrum Navigator [1] tool. These reports outline the latest important developments and key trends to watch going forward.

From the Q1 edition [2], GSMA Intelligence looks at a few market developments in the spectrum space and the impact on the industry.

Fresh momentum for 5G auctions
After a slowdown in Q2 2020 due to Covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdowns, spectrum assignments started to accelerate.

Four countries assigned new 5G spectrum in Q1 2021, with Chile becoming the first nation in Latin America to do so through an auction process. Progress in low bands continues, with the UK awarding spectrum in the 700MHz band. This is noteworthy because Europe is lagging in this particular band: more than half of the European Union countries missed a deadline to assign 5G spectrum in the 700MHz band by the end of 2020.

This year, there will be new assignments across 28 countries, a significant increase on the 17 nations in 2020. Other countries may make announcements throughout the year as 5G plans ramp.

With every launch of a new generation of mobile network technology, the issue of spectrum availability arises. Operators face pressure to secure additional spectrum resources with which to launch the new technology. Delayed spectrum assignments impact rollout, reach and quality of services of 5G networks.

Spectrum roadmap for 6G is on its way
Recent announcements related to 6G move beyond just a vision for a new technology, to actual use cases and roadmaps.

The recently-launched ITU-R 6G Vision Group is tasked with defining the technology and its capabilities as the industry moves towards standardisation. The outlook for commercialisation is in the 2030 timeframe. Meanwhile, China’s government reportedly plans to prioritise development of 6G for 2025, making the technology part of its wider digital strategy. In North America, the Next G Alliance has started working groups on the 6G roadmap.

Research is focusing on applications and use cases requiring the transmission and processing of massive amounts of data and moving intelligence to the edge.

From the spectrum perspective, it is about communicating in GHz and THz bands. It might seem early to start discussing the next generation of technology especially as 5G spectrum is yet to be assigned in many markets. However, when it comes to spectrum, discussions have to start well ahead. The current key band for 5G (3.5 GHz) was initially discussed in ITU’s WRC context in 2007, followed by the first assignment a decade later.

High reserve prices leave valuable spectrum unsold in India
In the latest Indian spectrum auction some frequencies were either sold at reserve price or not sold at all. A total of 2308.8MHz was on offer across seven bands, out of which only 855.6MHz (37 per cent) was sold.

All spectrum sold went at reserve price, while the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands did not receive any bids.

Lack of appetite for the valuable 700MHz spectrum [3] was due to high reserve prices: for operators, the priority is to first ensure continuity of spectrum licences coming up for renewal or consolidate current holdings in bands already assigned.

Since 2010, India has had several auctions that resulted in limited spectrum being assigned due to high reserve prices. As a result of this, spectrum holdings of mobile operators in India are lower than comparable economies, as well as global and regional averages.

With only 320MHz of spectrum assigned, India is well behind other comparable economies such as China (777MHz), Russia (595MHz) and Brazil (590MHz). Making sufficient amounts of affordable spectrum available is central to expanding and upgrading mobile broadband services.

– Dennisa Nichiforov-Chuang – lead analyst, Spectrum, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


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