Operators emphasise need for licensed spectrum regime for 5G

FRANKFURT, Germany--The spectrum requirements of future 5G networks and services are expected to be broad and varied, and mobile operators continue to stress that exclusive licence regimes remain the preferred solution and should be extended further.

Speaking at the NGMN Industry Conference & Exhibition 2015, here, Alain Maloberti, SVP at Orange Labs Network, said it is very important that 5G is integrated under the IMT umbrella--the International Mobile Telecommunication system of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)--in order to manage the systems in the best frequency bands as efficiently as possible.

Maloberti also emphasised that the industry will require access to more bands than are currently available. While sub-6 GHz bands will continue to be required for wide network coverage in areas where it is not economical to build fibre networks, some expected uses of 5G will require portions of spectrum ranging from 500 MHz to 1 GHz in order to support very high bit-rates as well as wireless backhaul requirements.

"It will be difficult to get [these blocks] in low-frequency bands," said Maloberti. "So we need access to high-frequency bands above 6 GHz."

While other ways of assigning spectrum are likely to come into play--such as spectrum refarming for 5G as well as spectrum trading--Maloberti said the licensed regime is the only one that guarantees quality of service by reducing the possibility of interference.

At the same time, Maloberti said other models would complement licensed regimes, noting that licensed assisted access (LAA) is one way to extend spectrum assets by making use of unlicensed spectrum. Indeed, LTE-U (LTE Advanced deployments in unlicensed spectrum) is already being considered for LTE.

"All this has to be considered and studied with 5G," he said, adding that the expanded use of spectrum bands will also bring an even greater need for the harmonization.

Stefan Apetrei, deputy director in the spectrum strategy and international planning team at Orange, reiterated that the industry will require increasingly larger portions of continuous spectrum and the ITU will take the lead in identifying global harmonized spectrum by 2020.

"The race for new spectrum will start in 2015 at the [World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC]," he said.

Indeed, WRC-15 will look at spectrum allocations up to 6 GHz and also set the agenda for WRC-19, when allocations above 6 GHz are likely to be considered.

"It's a critical step," said Apetrei, noting that five years is a very short time in spectrum assignment. "It's a slow process," he added.

Simon Wilson, head of spectrum technology at Telefonica, stressed that it will be very important to define the new agenda to prepare for the next study period from 2016 to 2019.

He commented that it will also be important to achieve a balance in the number of bands that will be available for 5G. While there is a need to identify new allocations for 5G that are wide enough to support multiple networks in frequencies above 6 GHz, he wants to ensure that the number of bands is minimized for 5G.

"There are more than 40 bands for 4G," he said. "I want to get away from that fragmented approach."

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