Making the case for 26 GHz

As some of you know, Real Wireless has had some excellent news in the past few days.

The UK’s Spectrum Policy Forum (SPF) has awarded its 26 GHz study contract to the Real Wireless team. This is an enormous vote of confidence in our abilities, in particular because it relates to strategies for the release of a significant piece of spectrum.

Now, however, the hard work begins.

We know that cellular mobile bands in the mmWave range i.e. bands above 24 GHz enables the opportunity to cover locations of exceptionally high traffic density and meet super-peaks of traffic demand. The 26 GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz) band was one of the key additional bands identified for IMT in WRC-19 in November 2019. Yes, there’s no doubt that many end users will be pleased at the prospect of being able to download high volumes of data quickly.

Despite its evident potential, there remains uncertainty regarding the commercial use case for 26GHz, making it difficult for MNOs to assess when and how the spectrum might be used and the quantity of spectrum needed.

We know that the European Electronics Communications Code (EECC) has set out some directions for member states by asking them to allow at least 1 GHz of 26GHz band available for 5G systems by 31 December 2020. Not many have except Italy and Finland. UK has also made this spectrum available under the shared access licence framework.

In fact, due to the large quantity of spectrum available, the spectrum supply may actually outstrip demand, making the traditional mobile spectrum award mechanisms such as auctions questionable. Regulators are therefore facing challenges in determining how much spectrum should be awarded and how to award. There is so far no harmonised approach for awarding the spectrum.

Progress is slow. A new thinking on the usability, sharing options and award mechanisms is needed.

The UK SPF has done some background work on a new spectrum release model for the 26GHz band that couples two complementary spectrum licensing regimes: auction-based where there is demand and – potentially – a mix of first come first served and unused spectrum sharing where there is not. This is a very broad concept at the moment.

Real Wireless has been given the job of providing evidence and insight that will help policymakers to develop alternative mechanisms that are needed to enable wider access to the 26GHz band.

It is essential to understand the potential use cases and deployment models for this band.

Real Wireless is not new to carrying out such analysis involving this band. In 2016 [1] we analysed the market for 5G services for the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), developing the key use cases that would drive early 5G take-up and assessing the implications for infrastructure requirements. We have investigated the potential for mmWave spectrum to be utilised in areas of high capacity demand such as city centres and parts of some crowded motorways.

Spectrum requirements analysis and technology mapping

We have experience that relates to both spectrum side: award mechanisms, policy making process, access mechanisms; and technology side: use cases & service demand analysis, technology evolutions, cost benefit analysis. So we have extensive experience working with policy makers to develop evidence-based and justifiable solutions for such new challenges Few other consulting groups can offer a similar portfolio – possibly none.

Without overstating the case, our experience and expertise make us ideally suited to address all aspects of 5G for regulators, vendors and operators – and we can and do offer our services to all players in this market at a time when the arrival of 5G is both an exciting and an uncertain prospect.

This uncertainty and our ability to provide insights that will help to manage it have been acknowledged by UK SPF through this study contract. We are delighted and honoured to be working with the UK SPF on making the case for 26GHz.

[1] National Infrastructure Commission, “Future use cases for mobile telecoms in the UK”, a report from Real Wireless, Oct 2016