Jun 8, 2018
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
Spectrum is critical for wireless communications, and here at Qualcomm, our engineers never stop inventing and evolving wireless technologies to enable better, faster mobile broadband. As a result, we often work closely with governments around the world as they attempt to make more spectrum available for commercial use. With 5G around the corner — the first 5G smartphones will be in consumers’ hands in 2019 — it is more important than ever that governments make a steady stream of spectrum available for 5G, not only to support the initial 5G launches but also to foster innovation and take full advantage of the capabilities of 5G to transform virtually every facet of life, to drive economic growth, and to spur the development of new industries.
In this vein, we were excited to see legislation introduced this week in Congress by Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) in the House, and by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Tom Udall (D-NM) in the Senate — the so-called “SPECTRUM NOW Act.” This bill facilitates federal funding for studies of whether various spectrum bands now allocated to the U.S. government can be reallocated in whole or in part for commercial use.
The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, leads this important work. In 2015, Congress allocated funds for this research, but there is concern that the funds could run out right as NTIA is in the midst of attempting to make additional spectrum available for 5G. The bill allows NTIA, working in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to tap into existing federal funding for important research to examine ways for federal users to relocate or share spectrum with non-federal users. It is gratifying to see legislators from both political parties and both chambers of Congress working together on spectrum. In a time of such extreme partisanship on so many issues, spectrum policy should never become partisan, and we are happy to see yet another instance of bipartisan and bicameral leadership in Congress.
NTIA has already identified 3450-3550 MHz for study as a potential band for wireless use — see their blog post from earlier this year. That spectrum is immediately adjacent to the CBRS band, which is 3550-3700 MHz, and then to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, as discussed in a blog post last year. In other words, NTIA’s work can create an additional swath of contiguous mid-band spectrum for 5G. This is just one example of why the funding that the SPECTRUM NOW Act could facilitate is so important.
Let us add a bit more about how this legislation fits into the overall framework for 5G. 5G supports low-, mid-, and high-bands and all three are necessary to realize the full potential of 5G. The mid-bands may be the most coveted for traditional cellular usage such as mobile broadband, because they provide a nice balance between access to wider bandwidth and the ability to provide wide-area coverage. As such, if the 3450-3550 MHz band is freed up, it could become a key 5G asset in the U.S. That is why we think this bill is so important; it will allow NTIA to continue its work, both to make this specific band available, but also to explore additional opportunities to make more spectrum available for 5G in the U.S.
When re-farming spectrum, which is the process of transitioning spectrum from one usage to another, it is ideal if the spectrum can be completely cleared of incumbents. But this is often not possible. The good news is that partly cleared bands can still be made available for commercial usage on a shared basis. This can be done in a dynamic way such that the incumbent’s services are not impacted. We refer to this as vertical sharing between users at different priority levels where the incumbent has the highest priority. Such vertical sharing is possible already today as exemplified by our plans to enable LTE in the CBRS band.
As explained in a previous blog post, we are working on new spectrum sharing technologies for 5G. One technology we are designing into 5G NR will build on the spectrum sharing technologies that we already pioneered in LTE, such as LTE-U/LAA. We refer to this as the evolutionary path. There is also an opportunity in 5G to explore new sharing paradigms, which we refer to as the revolutionary path. One exciting aspect of these new sharing paradigms is the potential to share spectrum in novel ways which can vastly improve mobile broadband for consumers over what is possible today. Not only can this path offer higher spectral efficiencies when sharing spectrum, it can also natively support vertical sharing with incumbents.
There is another interesting opportunity created by the revolutionary path when more spectrum is made available in the future. If new sharing rules are defined at the outset for spectrum where there are no wireless incumbents, e.g., time synchronization, then these new sharing paradigms can make it is possible for multiple operators to share a limited spectrum band in a coordinated fashion and deliver even better, faster, enhanced mobile broadband, while also having the assurance of a guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) normally associated with licensed spectrum. Even just allocating a portion of a new band for this new sharing technology — for example, 100 MHz—could substantially improve wireless service for consumers.
5G is coming soon, and those of us at Qualcomm cannot wait to see it proliferate as rapidly and as broadly as possible. We plan to continue working with government policymakers in the U.S. and around the world, collaborating with them on the hard work of making more spectrum available for 5G in all bands from low-, mid- to high-band, as well as in all regions worldwide. Only with sufficient spectrum can we reach the full potential of 5G and promote continued wireless innovation.