OnQ Blog

Discussing 5G spectrum on Capitol Hill

Status and next steps on spectrum policy for Gigabit LTE & 5G in the U.S. and beyond.

Jul 20, 2017

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Along with my colleague Alice Tornquist, I was on Capitol Hill earlier this week speaking at an event sponsored by the Congressional Spectrum Caucus, a bipartisan group established in 2014 by Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) to educate their colleagues about the importance of spectrum policy and to identify ways to increase access to, and better utilize, spectrum. Congressman Guthrie and Congresswoman Matsui are leaders in this area, most recently co-authoring H.R. 1888, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, a bill that would provide incentives for U.S. government agencies to consolidate their use of spectrum so that more spectrum can be freed up for commercial mobile broadband. We support this legislation because freeing up more spectrum is crucial to enabling better, faster mobile broadband for consumers.

Between now and 2035, around the world, 5G is estimated to generate over $12 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) of economic value, touching figuratively every facet of life. Sound spectrum policy to ensure that a steady stream of new spectrum is brought into commercial use is crucial to ensuring that 5G will be an enormous success for all of us.

This brings me to the topic of the event on Capitol Hill — the steps that the U.S. government could take to facilitate deployment of 5G, and that brings me right back to spectrum. 5G will use all types of spectrum — low band, mid band, and high band. It will also use spectrum regulated under any and all regulatory paradigms — licensed, unlicensed, and shared. Moreover, spectrum to enable Gigabit LTE and 5G are inextricably linked. Gigabit LTE, using technologies developed by Qualcomm Technologies, is available today and is providing much faster and better mobile broadband with broad coverage to wide areas, while 5G commercial launches will start in 2019. Since it will take years for 5G coverage to match up with today’s LTE coverage, Gigabit LTE sets the foundation for 5G. Therefore, I’d like to share an update on recent developments in the U.S. and around the world on efforts to make more spectrum available for Gigabit LTE and 5G.

Let’s start with access to low bands and the U.S. 600 MHz auction

In April of this year, the FCC announced the results of its very successful auction of 600 MHz spectrum — prime, low-band spectrum that will bring greater capacity and improved coverage for mobile broadband. I say that the auction was successful because it generated more than $19.8 billion in proceeds, and it will open 70 MHz of licensed spectrum for fast mobile broadband. It was not surprising that a wide, cross section of the U.S. mobile and cable industries bid heavily in the auction for this spectrum, as the 600 MHz spectrum is especially valuable for Gigabit LTE as well as 5G. It is suited for long-range, macro deployments that are not only great for providing enhanced mobile broadband coverage over a large area, but also ultimately connecting the wide-area massive Internet of Things and more.

Recently auctioned 600 MHz spectrum bands in the U.S.

In some areas, the auction winners can start using the new spectrum very quickly to expand their LTE footprint and deliver Gigabit-class LTE ubiquitously across their networks. As I explained above, providing Gigabit LTE throughout a coverage area is crucial for operators, since it will take considerable time before 5G is deployed ubiquitously, and consumers will need Gigabit LTE for high speed, high quality mobile broadband. In other areas, the process of clearing the spectrum of TV stations now using it and moving (repacking) TV stations into the remaining TV spectrum will take up to 39 months.

A key part of commercializing 600 MHz for LTE is to support it in chipsets, so Qualcomm Technologies previously announced that the Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 LTE modem and RF transceiver have been designed with 600 MHz band capability, and we confirmed support for the band with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem. Our advanced RF Front End (RFFE) technologies, such as dynamic antenna tuning, are designed to minimize the OEM design impact in extending their devices’ frequency range to operate in the 600 MHz band without having to increase antenna size or compromise RF performance. With broad industry support, we are working closely with operators and OEMs to enable early launches of 600 MHz-capable 4G multimode/multiband devices.

5G NR will expand mobile into new spectrum bands

As I mentioned, 5G will utilize all spectrum bands — from low bands such as 600 MHz, to mid bands such as spectrum around 3.5 GHz, to high bands such as 28 GHz, 39 GHz, and other millimeter wave bands — and all spectrum types from licensed, to shared, and unlicensed spectrum. In the U.S., the FCC has already allocated mid band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range under the name Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). CBRS opens up a total of 150 MHz of spectrum for mobile use cases and introduces a new 3-tiered spectrum sharing framework that allows incumbents to efficiently share spectrum with other users, both licensed (called PAL – Priority Access Licenses) and shared (called GAA, or General Authorized Access). CBRS is expected to be launched initially with LTE and could become an important future 5G band in the U.S. Once again, Qualcomm will be leading the way in this band too with our chipsets.

Last, but not least, let’s not forget the Spectrum Frontier Ruling, which I wrote about a year ago. That ruling opened up high-band spectrum in the millimeter wave range, which will play an integral role in the upcoming 5G NR deployments starting in 2019. In that ruling, the FCC issued rules for over 11 GHz of millimeter wave spectrum for 5G, but also asked for comments on a wide variety of other bands, some of which are key bands for 5G in other regions around the world. Finally, just last week, the FCC announced that it will consider a Notice of Inquiry — a request for information — on other mid-band spectrum.

All in all, it is very encouraging to see the FCC continuing to work on making more spectrum available for Gigabit LTE and 5G. I know I speak for my colleagues at Qualcomm when I say that here in the U.S., we cannot wait to see the commercial launches of 5G NR — the global 5G standard — to start in 2019, and we’re all working with urgency to make that a reality.

Global 5G spectrum status

Identifying, harmonizing, and auctioning spectrum for future 5G networks is truly a global effort. No region can afford to be left out. Regulators around the world are tirelessly working with stakeholders across industries toward the common goal of making more spectrum available for 5G. Here is a quick summary of the status of spectrum for 5G in some places around the world:

  • China: In June, China’s MIIT (Ministry of Industry & Information Technology) issued two notifications for public consultations concerning 5G spectrum. One asked comments on sub-6 GHz 5G bands approval on 3.4 to 3.6 GHz, 3.3 to 3.4 GHz (for indoor only), and 4.8 to 5 GHz. The other solicited the public opinion on candidate millimeter wave bands and targets 24.75-27.5 GHz and 37-42.5 GHz. In July, MIIT approved the additional small scale 5G trial spectrum of 4.8-5 GHz, 24.75-27.5 GHz and 37-42.5 GHz, besides the existing 3.4-3.6 GHz.
  • Japan: This month, Japan’s MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) officially identified and issued a public consultation concerning 5G spectrum identifying up to 500 MHz of sub-6 GHz spectrum, to come from the 3.6-4.2 GHz and 4.4-4.9 GHz ranges, and up to 2 GHz of millimeter wave spectrum, to come from the 27.5-29.5 GHz range. MIC plans to issue the final technical rules, including the precise frequencies, by next summer.
  • Europe: In 2016, the European Commission (EC) published its action plan that targets a Gigabit Society with the start of 5G trials from 2017, the launch of early 5G networks by 2018 followed by commercial 5G services in at least one major city in each Member State by 2020 and full 5G deployment across the EU by 2025. Pioneer spectrum bands have also been identified as part of this initiative in the three ranges of the spectrum: below 1 GHz (700MHz), between 1 GHz and 6 GHz (3.4 – 3.8 GHz), and above 6 GHz (26 GHz). European regulatory bodies are working fast on harmonizing the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz and 26 GHz ranges and most recently also the extended L band (1427-1518 MHz) which could represent an important resource to augment the 700MHz. In parallel, spectrum awards are under planning in several Member States for both the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz and 26 GHz bands and expected in the 2017/2018 timeframe. The overall goal is to provide a regulatory framework to incentivize operator investments for consistent Gigabit services, introducing regulatory measures allowing operators to fully take advantage of larger allocations of contiguous spectrum to increase peak rates and user experience, with manageable terminal complexity and minimal power consumption.
  • Korea: Korean regulators are planning to allocate a total of 4 GHz of millimeter wave spectrum for 5G in three phases. The first phase will begin in 2018, focusing on millimeter wave in 27.5 28.5 GHz as well as mid-band in 3.4 3.7 GHz. Phase two will add 2 GHz of bandwidth in the 26.5 27.5 GHz and 28.5 29.5 GHz ranges. The third phase will add an additional 1 GHz of bandwidth in the 2021 to 2026 timeframe, for a total 5G mmWave bandwidth of 4 GHz.
  • Australia: Both mid-band spectrum in the 3.4 3.7 GHz range and millimeter wave spectrum are being targeted in Australia for 5G deployments. For millimeter wave, Australian operator Telstra has already announced trials in 2018 at the Commonwealth Games, using 28 and 39 GHz.
  • Singapore: In May 2017, IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority) issued a public consultation on spectrum for 5G. The consultation sought comment on a number of spectrum bands below 1 GHz, between 1 and 6 GHz, and above 6 GHz.
  • Hong Kong: In March 2017, the Communications Authority of Hong Kong issued a work plan on spectrum for 5G. The plan included allocation of low band (sub-1 GHz), mid-band (3.4 – 3.7 GHz) and millimeter wave (24.25 – 28.35 GHz) spectrum.

Conclusion

At Qualcomm, we’ll be actively working with regulators, partners, and the entire industry all over the world to continue the momentum and to enable global 5G launches in 2019. Stay tuned for further updates!