Connectivity

Report calls for US to keep up with global appetite for 5G spectrum

Doing so could mean a $200 billion boost to the economy over a decade.
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· 3 min read

The US risks falling behind its peers in making electromagnetic radio spectrum available for 5G service and the plethora of applications that depend on it, a new wireless industry report said.

The report, released Feb. 7 by mobile trade group CTIA and consulting firm Accenture, found that failure to free up prime wireless service bands and “harmonize” with other nations’ spectrum usage plans means leaving money on the table—to the tune of billions.

“Spectrum harmonization could lead to economic benefits of $200b over 10 years,” according to the report. “These benefits will largely be felt by consumers and businesses in the form of cheaper devices and connectivity, improved service, and transformative new technology and use cases.”

The US can get on the same page as global tech leaders, including Japan and South Korea, by dedicating swaths of spectrum—like parts of the 3 GHz, 4 GHz, and 7 GHz–8 GHz bands—to advanced wireless applications, CTIA and Accenture recommend.

By “aligning spectrum regulation and commercial allocations with other countries,” the US can help ensure that wireless devices are interoperable, while a failure to do so “could inflate the cost for end users in the US to acquire new technology, as there would be more customization involved due to the country’s unique standards,”the report said.

CTIA SVP Umair Javed told Tech Brew that the US is at a crucial juncture where it must decide whether to follow other countries’ blueprints for how they’ll use 5G spectrum, which was previously a key to 4G’s global success. One pressing need is for more licensed spectrum in the mid-band—including the 3GHz–8 GHz bands—which is ideal for carrying 5G signals quickly and over long distances, he said.

“There’s sort of this imbalance in US spectrum policy today, especially in that critical mid-band range,” Javed said. “A lot of it is held by the federal government...A lot more of that spectrum has been allocated for unlicensed and shared use in the mid-band.”

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One potential step in the right direction is the White House’s recent “blueprint” that lays out a pipeline for making new spectrum bands available to the commercial sector, the report said. The White House plan singles out parts of the 3 GHz and 7 GHz bands as prime candidates for exclusive commercial use, Javed said, which would allow companies to obtain licenses and build networks without fear of interference or traffic delays from other users.

“That lines up really nicely with what’s happening in the rest of the world,” Javed said.

As world leaders look ahead to the next World Radiocommunication Conference in 2027, held every four years to address emerging technology issues, many are eyeing spectrum, including parts of the 6 GHz band for licensed 5G use. This runs counter to the US decision to dedicate this swath to wi-fi 6, an unlicensed spectrum application that doesn’t require exclusive access privileges typically won in spectrum auctions. This could put the US on a collision course with other countries like China, which have designated most of the band for licensed 5G, the report notes.

However, Javed said the US could course-correct by commercializing the complementary 7 GHz and 8 GHz bands.

“That gets us in the same tuning range, which means you can still benefit from those economies of scale. We can still participate in those equipment markets. And that makes an opportunity for the US to lead in the development of the new, harmonized band,” he said.

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Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.