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As always, the World Radio Conference has had to attempt a difficult balancing act between competing claims on spectrum resources, and that gets harder on each occasion, particularly as the mobile industry's demands for ever-greater broadband capacity grow. While recognising the social and economic impact of mobile broadband, the WRC also has to be mindful of the needs of other user. In the 2015 conference, which concluded at the end of last week after more than three weeks of discussions, it particularly had to address the concerns of the broadcasting and satellite sectors.
The broadcasting industry generally reacted favourably to the decisions made in the 700 MHz and sub-700 MHz bands. The first major outcomes of the event allocated the 700 MHz spectrum as a global mobile broadband resource, which will variously be used for LTE-Advanced, IoT and 5G services. However, although spectrum below 694 MHz is being repurposed for cellular networks in some countries, notably the US, the WRC resisted lobbying from the mobile industry and kept it in the hands of the TV sector in Region 1 (EMEA).
This conference was not specifically tasked with looking at 5G spectrum allocations, though that will be a central agenda item in the 2019 event. However, some of the decisions, including 700 MHz harmonization, will influence how, and when, some MNOs can deploy 5G. And WRC-15 delegates approved several agenda items for 2019, which will be directly related to 5G, particularly related to high frequency spectrum. Many 5G activities are focused on bands above 6 GHz, and right up to 100 GHz and beyond, with the view that exploiting these high capacity and underused airwaves will be the only way to keep meeting the levels of demand for mobile data.
However, the first wave of 5G standards and deployments are likely to remain concentrated on traditional sub-6 GHz bands, so that WRC-19 can set the stage for a second phase of work, which will need to address the considerable challenges of creating efficient radio designs for high frequencies.
John Giusti, chief regulatory officer of the GSMA, said in a statement: "We acknowledge the agreement at WRC-15 for a new agenda item for WRC-19 to identify high frequency bands above 24 GHz for 5G mobile services. This is a critical first stage in the journey towards a new wave of mobile innovation, considerably faster than existing technologies and driving a hyper-connected society in which mobile will play an ever more important role in people's lives."
In the shorter term, the mobile industry now has three additional globally harmonized bands - harmonization, as Giusti commented, is "key to driving the economies of scale needed to deliver low cost, ubiquitous mobile broadband to consumers around the globe". As well as the 700 MHz (694-790 MHz) spectrum, the others are 200 MHz in the C-band (3.4-3.6 GHz), which is seen as an important capacity band for small cells; and the L-band in 1427-1518 MHz, which provides a balance of coverage and capacity.
The GSMA may not have got its way on the sub-700 MHz band this time, but its tone was optimistic. Giusti said: "The GSMA particularly commends the vision shown by many countries seeking the flexibility to use the sub-700MHz band (especially 610-694/698 MHz) for mobile broadband. Not only can legacy television services in the band be delivered far more efficiently using less spectrum, but the reality is that consumer habits are evolving as video content is increasingly accessed via mobile devices. Allowing both mobile and broadcasting in the band gives these governments the ability to respond to the changing needs of their citizens."
The satellite industry had lobbied heavily ahead of the Geneva event, aware that some of the bands which the cellular operators are eyeing for 5G are currently used for satellite. A group of global and regional satellite industry assocations issued a statement, under the auspices of the Satellite Spectrum Initiative, which was generally upbeat about the WRC outcomes.
The statement read "The world's governments resoundingly affirmed a clear vision for the importance of many vital and irreplaceable services provided today over satellite. They also agreed on a clear framework for future access to spectrum for innovative satellite communications." The groups pointed out that, while spectrum in the L and C bands was harmonized for mobile IMT use, there were clear measures to protect adjacent satellite users in 1518-1559 MHz, and there was no reallocation of the upper portion of the C-band, in 3.6-4.2 GHz.
The conference did not include any globally harmonized bandsi, currently used for satellite services in the C, Ku or Ka bands, within the WRC-19 agenda item to identify future 5G spectrum, leading satellite delegates to boast that they had preserved the Ka band, in particular.
Several agenda items were adopted for future WRC conferences, including a study for 2019 of additional fixed satellite service (FSS) airwaves in 51.4-52.4 GHz. In addition, an agenda item for WRC-23 was adopted, focused on additional satellite spectrum in 37.5-39.5 GHz. And a resolution was adopted, which paves the way for using FSS links for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones.
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
There are some '5G' discussions and claims which are completely legitimate to have in 2015, especially if next generation networks really are to start appearing from 2020. Vendors, operators and research institutes need to identify the areas in which R&D dollars will be best spent, and it is vital for regulators and policy makers that there are some clear directions on how spectrum will be used in future networks.
There are others which are dramatically premature, particularly all the talk of the '5G air interface' in Barcelona at the recent Mobile World Congress, probably the aspect on which fewest parties are in agreement, and which really does have to wait for the 3GPP to kick off activities.
There are interesting projects in this area - for instance, Alcatel-Lucent and Intel are working on the Universal Filtered OFDM air interface, which had its origins in WiMAX, and could be one candidate for the next generation.
Separate air interfaces may be needed to support IoT nodes in lower frequency bands and high bandwidth applications in the 10-100GHz range. Since the official spectrum policies above 6GHz may not be decided until WRC-19, the industry faces the interesting challenge of "designing new air interfaces ahead of when spectrum is released", as Intel put it.
But there is not even consensus on whether a new air interface is needed at all. "I suspect that it will require a new air interface," said Alex Jinsung Choi, head of SK Telecom's corporate R&D center in South Korea, and Eduardo Esteves, VP of product management for Qualcomm, echoed this as both took part in a panel discussion at Mobile World Congress. But Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, told the same session: "I don't think we know at this stage whether a new air interface will be required. I think it will be a bit of time before we can answer that with certainty."
In general, despite all the marketing hype attached to so-called pre-5G demonstrations, Barcelona attendees were firmly focused on the short to medium term and the achievable. But that did not stop a large number of organizations using the event to launch their 5G manifestos, and seek to place themselves and their particular agendas in the driving seat.
Just ahead of the show, the European Commission fronted a paper which set out an inaugural 5G vision based around its previously announced '5G Public Private Partnership' (5GPPP). It stated the issues (the easy bit) and recited the usual mantras - data volumes of 10 terabytes per square kilometer; one million terminals per square kilometer; one-tenth of the energy consumption and one-fifth of the latency of current platforms; cutting network management to 20% of today's costs; data rates of 50Mbps to every user; location services to within a meter. Then it gave itself the familiar, but perhaps unachievable, deadline of five years to solve all that.
The EC received a lot of attention, but there were plenty of other alliances and proposals. Here is Rethink's selection of the ones which are likely to have a real impact on how '5G' pans out:
The IPv6 Forum has launched a new 5G World Alliance, with the lofty aim of achieving "seamless global network interoperability". President Latif Ladid said: "We are talking here about a 5G world where technologies such as an all-IPv6-based M2M, the mobile IoT, mobile cloud computing, SDN, NFV, fringe and tactile internet will converge over fixed and mobile networks to change lives and businesses everywhere." Ladid said the alliance was currently establishing board members and said it would work alongside the ETSI IPv6 ISG to share its findings.
Among the objectives that the 5GWA is looking to achieve are:
- Global harmonization and synergies of the telecom and internet worlds
- The creation of large-scale worldwide interoperable testbeds
- Promotion of end-user empowering applications and global solutions
- Promotion of interoperable implementation of converging and integrated standards
- Developing educational and '5G-ready' programs
- Resolving issues that could create barriers to 5G deployment
4G Americas has signed a memorandum of understanding with the 5GPPP, outlining the basis for cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations. The MoU specifically agrees to share information on basic system concepts for 5G frequencies to support the global regulatory process, and preparation of future global 5G standards by identification of common interest and consensus building.
The NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) Alliance has published a white paper detailing end-to-end operator requirements for 5G, intended to guide the development of future technology platforms and standards. A global team of more than 100 experts contributed to the white paper by developing the consolidated operator requirements. These are summarized predictably enough - "the capabilities of the network need to be expanded to support much greater throughput, lower latency and higher connection density. To cope with a wide range of use cases and business models, 5G has to provide a high degree of flexibility and scalability by design. In addition, it should show foundational shifts in cost and energy efficiency. On the end user side, a key requirement for 5G will be that a consistent customer experience is achieved across time and service footprint. NGMN envisages a 5G ecosystem that is truly global, free of fragmentation and open for innovations."
Ericsson announced its new '5G for Sweden' research program, involving companies such as Scania and Volvo, as well as several academic and research partners from across the country.
Ericsson said it wanted to develop and roll in ICT solutions into products and services built upon emerging 5G standards. An example of this is work it is doing with Scania, which will examine future transport solutions.
Nokia and Ericsson will collaborate with Korea Telecom on 5G and IoT following the signing of new memorandums of understanding. The first sets up an IoT and LTE-M lab to develop business models aimed at convergence and the automotive industry. This will be on KT premises and will involve all three Nokia business units (Networks, Here and Labs). The second builds on an existing 5G cooperation with Ericsson.
Nokia and NTT Docomo carried out a joint demonstration in Barcelona, of technologies they say will be part of the '5G' networks the pair plan to showcase at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. They achieved above 2Gbps in the 70GHz band.
China Mobile, NTT Docomo and KT announced that they would conduct a three-way 5G technical collaboration in an attempt to accelerate commercial deployments and drive standardization efforts. They will explore new services and vertical markets enabled by 5G, jointly identify 5G key technologies and prove the validity of system concepts. The operators will also work with global organizations such as ITU, 3GPP, GSMA, NGMN and GTI to facilitate global harmonized spectrum planning and a unified global 5G standard, the companies said in a joint statement.
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