Millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum has been the subject of much debate over the years due to its propagation characteristics. Now, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) reports that 97 operators in 17 countries/territories hold public licenses enabling 5G in mmWave spectrum.
Of these, 22 operators are already deploying 5G networks using mmWave spectrum, while 13 countries/territories have announced date-specified plans for assigning frequencies above 24 GHz between now and the end of 2021, according to the organization.
The 24.25–29.5 GHz 5G mmWave spectrum range is the most-licensed/deployed to date, with 123 operators in 42 countries/territories investing in 5G—in the form of trials, licenses, deployments or operational networks across this spectrum range.
The device ecosystem also is gaining steam, with 84 5G devices announced that support one or more of the spectrum bands above 24 GHz, up from 59 at the end of November. Twenty-seven of those devices are believed to be commercially available as of the beginning of June 2020, the GSA said.
“5G mmWave spectrum offers large amounts of bandwidth to deliver far greater capacity, faster downloads and more subscribers, making it ideally suited for high data throughput applications such as video communications, video animations, data hungry applications such as virtual and augmented reality and the rapid deployment of Fixed Wireless Access,” said GSA President Joe Barrett in a statement.
U.S. paves the way
The U.S. was early to the mmWave game, with the FCC having now conducted three auctions for high-band spectrum, including 24 GHz, 28 GHz and the most recent one that included the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands.
Operators also have obtained mmWave spectrum in secondary market transactions. Verizon holds the most mmWave spectrum in the U.S., yet it has been criticized for its heavy reliance on mmWave as part of its 5G strategy—one that enables it to provide some blazing fast speeds in dense urban areas but the signals don’t travel far and coverage is severely lacking.
By the end of this year, Verizon is expected to use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to provide more coverage in the U.S. DSS will give Verizon the ability to offer 5G on a national scale, allowing 5G service to run simultaneously with 4G LTE on multiple spectrum bands, including those historically reserved for 4G LTE services.
T-Mobile emphasizes its low-band 600 MHz spectrum for the 5G coverage layer while it deploys 2.5 GHz spectrum that it acquired via Sprint, but it also has been noting of late that its mmWave holdings amount to more than AT&T’s. At a recent investor event, T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray said the higher bands are great as a capacity layer, with interesting use cases in the fixed broadband space as well as for backhaul.