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Will the 6GHz Band Become the New ‘Golden Band’ for Mobile Broadband?

by Guang Yang | 2月 22, 2021

Mid-band enables a good balance of data speed and coverage.

On January 15th, the US auction for 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band closed its first phase with a staggering $80.9 billion in bids after 97 rounds, which is the highest value spectrum auction that the U.S. government has ever held. The previous record was $44.9 billion from the AWS-3 auction in 2015.

The record-breaking auction indicates the hunger of wireless carriers for spectrum assets, as well as evidence of the value of mid-band spectrum. The user experience benchmarking in the live 5G networks has shown the great advantage of the mid-band spectrum.

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In the above chart, we summarize the 5G network performance of Verizon and T-Mobile which has been  tested by OpenSignal. It can be found that, in June 2020, Verizon’s download speed significantly led T-Mobile but the network availability was very low, while T-Mobile’s network availability was pretty good but the download speed was only one tenth Verizon’s. The reason behind this is the choice of spectrum. Verizon deployed its 5G in the mmWave band initially, whereas T-Mobile’s deployment was mainly in the 600MHz band.

In January 2021, a dramatic change appeared in the benchmarking result. Verizon’s 5G availability got improved while its download speed dropped sharply. On the other hand, T-Mobile’s download speed and availability have improved steadily. T-Mobile’s 5G download speed has even exceeded Verizon’s. The choice of spectrum can also explain the change. Verizon started launching 5G in the lower spectrum band, such as 850MHz, through DSS technology, which can improve the coverage but limit its network speed. In contrast, T-Mobile is aggressively rolling out 5G using the 2.5 GHz spectrum it acquired with Sprint. The 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum enables T-Mobile to achieve a balance between data speed and network coverage, while the lack of mid-band spectrum for 5G makes Verizon struggling to get a balanced network performance.

Therefore, the mid-band spectrum is important for mobile operators to achieve a balanced coverage and capacity, which should be at least one of the reasons that the C-Band auction reaches a record-breaking value. US carriers have recognized the value of mid-band spectrum.

Licensed spectrum key for people getting connected.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, people’s communication demand pushed the Internet usage surging in many countries. An OECD’s report indicated ‘since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, demand for broadband communication services has soared, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60% increase in Internet traffic compared to before the crisis.’ The chart below summarized the data traffic increase over underlying Internet infrastructure.

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Not only developed countries but also developing countries experienced a significant increase in Internet traffic. For example, Chile experienced a net increase of 10.4% between September and December 2019, which can be considered a baseline prior to COVID-19. Between December 2019 and March 2020, bandwidth increased by 38.3%, around 3.7 times that of the prior quarter. Brazil and South Africa also reported similar trends.

During the epidemic, applications such as home office, online learning, and remote medical consultations proliferated. UNESCO pointed out that, at the peak of the crisis, almost 1.6 billion children in 195 countries worldwide could not use their classrooms. Data from the US CDC shows that the telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, when the US epidemic broke out, surged by 154% compared with the same period in 2019. These applications pushed up the demand for video conferencing, video streaming, etc. The video conferencing platform Zoom had seen a 535% rise in daily traffic in March 2020 when the global epidemic was rapidly spreading. These video applications raise new requirements for the quality of broadband connections. ADSL and Cable are not able to meet the needs of the rapidly developing market. However, the penetration rate of optical fiber broadband in most markets around the world is still insufficient. This makes mobile broadband technologies, i.e., 4G LTE and 5G NR, play an indispensable role in providing the high-quality broadband. The table below compares the penetration of FTTx household broadband and mobile broadband (4G LTE and 5G NR) in each region.

 Table: FTTx Household BB Penetration vs. Mobile BB Penetration, 2019

Region

Asia-Pacific

W. Europe

N. America

C&L America

C&E Europe

MEA

FTTX Household BB Penetration

39.0%

15.0%

13.5%

8.2%

22.3%

2.6%

MBB Penetration

60.6%

68.7%

87.4%

47.0%

51.3%

20.3%

Source: Strategy Analytics

Therefore, whether in developing or developed markets, mobile broadband networks are already an important foundation for providing high-quality broadband connections. Spectrum is the lifeblood for the sustainable development of mobile broadband networks. The sufficient licensed spectrum could enable operators to extend the mobile broadband network reach. Mid-band spectrum can achieve a good balance between coverage and system capacity, not only can provide consumers with basic connectivity services, but also help improve their experience.  

6 GHz band: growing ecosystem benefits connected society.

Currently the allocation of spectrum in the 5925/6425 – 7125MHz band is under discussion. As pointed by Strategy Analytics’ blog The 6 GHz Band will be Key for 5G Growth; Regulators and Standards Bodies Should Act in 2021, the 6 GHz band is a critical resource for the mobile industry “to deliver on the longer-term value-generating strategies for both consumer and enterprise markets.” We also pointed in another blog that the band can be the new core band for 5G and its evolution.

Besides the value of the spectrum band for the mobile industry, we want to emphasize that the 6 GHz band is also valuable to the human and social development.

In July 2016 the U.N. issued a resolution that indicates the importance of "applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach when providing and expanding access to the internet and for the internet to be open, accessible and nurtured". However, it is still challenging in some developing areas to provide all people the Internet access.

In a recent virtual event jointly hosted by Nokia, Ericsson, GSMA, Huawei and ZTE, Telefónica Hispanoamérica stated that ‘low penetration and speed of FBB services in Latin America made even more important in the region some of the key 5G use cases: enhanced MBB and FWA services.’ Ericsson also pointed ‘in Latin America, the bottle neck is in the Fixed Broadband access,’ while ‘5G BB has no bottleneck issues in last mile connection.’ 

These statements are in line with our analysis in the above section. The licensed spectrum based mobile broadband network is key for people in developing countries to access the Internet. With the development of the Internet of Things, the mobile network could help to improve the overall productivity of an economy, which will benefit the entire society.

Two dozen telecoms companies and industry organisations have joined forces to promote the 6GHz mobile ecosystem growth. Some large economies have planned to start testing for the 6GHz band in 2021.

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China’s IMT-2020 Promoting Group announced to ‘initiate the 6GHz Protype Test & Field Trial’ for 5G macro base station. Russian state-owned radio R&D institute NIIR also plans to test the possible use of the 6,425-7,100 MHz frequency band for the development of 5G networks. The movement of these large economies will provide a solid base for 6GHz mobile ecosystem.

Looking toward to WRC-23, we believe allocating 6GHz band for mobile broadband service not only will benefit the global mobile industry but will promote the development of human right and connected society. It is the time to re-evaluate the value of this spectrum band. 6GHz band is expected to play a key role in the human and social development in the next decade and become the new ‘Golden Band’ for mobile broadband.


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