GSMA offers a share and share alike approach to the C-Band

Can't we all just get along? Yeah, probably

Alex Sinclair, GSMA CTO
Come out fighting Alex Sinclair

The trade association for mobile operators, the GSMA, has taken up arms in support of its members' campaign for three areas of spectrum at the World Radiocommunication Conference, currently being held in Geneva.

The organisation is looking to nab the L-Band, sub 700MHz (including 470-694), where it will be taking on the TV industry which has Freeview in that space, 2.7-2.9GHz, and C Band, which is 3.4-4.2GHz. In the UK some 3.4GHz spectrum is due to be auctioned in January.

The GSMA’s CTO and keeping the seat warm Director General, Alex Sinclair, told attendees at the just-finished Huawei Mobile Broadband event in Hong Kong that he was going to fight the good fight on their behalf.

He pointed out that LTE (or 4G to its friends) was the first time we’d seen and accepted a global radio standard, and that while there was a mess of frequencies it was a much better situation than the competing technologies seen before.

He warned that it was important to get the frequencies right now to avoid fragmentation in 5G.

The plan the GSMA favours for C-Band is not to kick out the incumbents (point-to-point and space-to-earth satellite communications) but to work with them. Getting the point-to-point to move might be possible, but nipping up to a geo-stationary orbiting device to change the crystals, or whatever, might prove more problematic.

Yeah, working with them is very sharing economy, and says that since the satellites are talking to fixed earth stations, the frequencies aren’t being used over the vast majority of the country, and indeed that’s how it can be used for fixed links.

As long as you stay out of everyone’s physical way the mobile industry could use it to provide capacity and faster downloads in the areas where no-one else was, or is.

To drive the point home, the GSMA commissioned a report from spectrum experts Plum Consulting which looks at the economic benefit of letting mobile networks flat-share the space.

The report specifically looks at London and Shenzhen to see what the case is for the WRC letting the networks in. It concludes that even using conservative estimates the capacity crunch will come in London in 2022, and in Shenzen in 2020. In both places it would be quite easy to tiptoe around the fixed links and earth stations. In fact, it even puts a number on the cost of not doing it:

The total benefit from the deployment of C-Band spectrum in the two cities is €401m expressed in 2018 terms over the period of 2018 to 2028.

The argument is that mobiles make people more productive, and both people and countries wealthier. Faster mobiles are a good thing and to have carrier aggregation you’ll want more frequencies to put those carriers in, and ideally nice fat bits of spectrum so they can be contiguous.

For a mobile phone to play nice with a satellite earth station the networks will have to be radio planned not to use the 3.4GHz frequencies near the earth stations.

In practice, the GSMA will hail whatever it comes away with as a victory. Sinclair was straight on a plane from Hong Kong to Geneva, and his appearance at the Huawei event was all about explaining what a good job the GSMA does for its members.

The organisation has been hugely successful off the back of a number of aid grants and the Mobile World Congress trade show, but while members might see this as an opportunity to reduce the membership fees, the GSMA has chosen to expand the good work it does from its plush London office.

Bringing back the bandwidth from Geneva, from an organisation whose stated aim is to "ensure rational, equitable, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum by all radiocommunication services, including those using satellite orbits", will go a long way to quell operators objections that they're paying too much to be members. ®

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