Shared spectrum to fuel 5G developments

Tuesday, 26 January, 2021

Shared spectrum to fuel 5G developments

The communications industry is undergoing a paradigm shift, driven by innovations such as the adoption of shared and unlicensed spectrum.

Annual spending on 5G NR and LTE small cell RAN (radio access network) infrastructure operating in shared spectrum will reach nearly US$4 billion by 2024 to support a variety of uses, according to research from SNS Telecom & IT.

Those use cases include private cellular networks for enterprises and vertical industries, densification of mobile operator networks, FWA (fixed-wireless access) and neutral host connectivity.

According to SNS Telecom, the cellular communications industry is undergoing a revolutionary paradigm shift, driven by technological innovations, liberal regulatory policies and disruptive business models.

One important aspect of the transformation is the growing adoption of shared and unlicensed spectrum.

Telecommunications regulatory authorities across the globe have launched innovative frameworks to facilitate the coordinated sharing of licensed spectrum, most notably:

  • the United States’ three-tiered CBRS scheme for dynamic sharing of 3.5 GHz spectrum
  • Germany’s 3.7–3.8 GHz licences for private 5G networks
  • the United Kingdom’s shared and local access licensing model
  • France’s 2.6 GHz licences for industrial LTE/5G networks
  • the Netherlands’ local mid-band spectrum permits
  • Japan’s local 5G network licences
  • Hong Kong’s geographically-shared licences
  • Australia’s 26/28 GHz area-wide apparatus licences.

In addition, the 3GPP cellular wireless ecosystem is also accelerating its foray into vast swaths of globally and regionally harmonised unlicensed spectrum bands.

Although existing commercial activity is largely centred around LTE-based LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) technology whereby licence-exempt frequencies are used in tandem with licensed anchors to expand mobile network capacity and deliver higher data rates, the introduction of 5G NR-U in 3GPP’s Release 16 specifications paves the way for 5G NR deployments in unlicensed spectrum for both licensed assisted and standalone modes of operation.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • SNS Telecom & IT estimates that global investments in LTE and 5G NR RAN infrastructure operating in shared and unlicensed spectrum will account for more than US$1.3 billion by the end of 2021. The market is expected to continue its upward trajectory beyond 2021, growing at CAGR of approximately 44% between 2021 and 2024 to reach nearly US$4 billion in annual spending by 2024.
  • Breaking away from traditional practices of spectrum assignment for mobile services that predominantly focused on exclusive-use national licences, telecommunications regulatory authorities across the globe have launched innovative frameworks to facilitate the coordinated sharing of licensed spectrum.
  • Private LTE and 5G networks operating in shared spectrum are becoming an increasingly common theme. For example, Germany’s national telecommunications regulator BNetzA (Federal Network Agency) has received more than a hundred applications for private 5G licences in 2020 alone. Dozens of purpose-built 5G networks are already in operational use by the likes of aircraft maintenance specialist Lufthansa Technik, industrial conglomerate Bosch, automakers and other manufacturing giants.
  • Since the commencement of its local 5G spectrum licensing scheme, Japan has been showing a similar appetite for industrial-grade 5G networks, with initial field trials and deployments being spearheaded by many of the country’s largest industrial players including Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric, Sumitomo Corporation and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
  • Among other examples, the 3.5 GHz CBRS shared spectrum band is being utilised to set up private LTE networks across the United States for applications as diverse as remote learning and COVID-19 response efforts in healthcare facilities. 5G NR-based CBRS implementations are also expected to emerge between 2021 and 2022 to better support industrial IoT requirements.

In the coming years, with the commercial maturity of 5G NR-U technology, it is anticipated that 5G NR deployments in unlicensed spectrum for both licensed assisted and standalone modes of operation using the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands as well as higher frequencies in the millimetre wave range will be seen. For example, Australia’s 24.25–25.1 GHz band is being made available for uncoordinated deployments of private 5G networks servicing locations such as factories, mining sites, hospitals and educational institutions.

Image credit: ©Николай Батаев

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