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Operators must secure spectrum to revive 5G rollouts in 2020 - report

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works for many sectors and industries that thought 2020 was going to be their year.

A classic example of this is the great expectation of 2020 being the year of 5G – devices with 5G capabilities were being rolled out, more were in production, networks were being set up. But the outbreak of pandemic has slowed down wider 5G rollout significantly, especially in the APAC region.

One important reason for this is the availability, or lack thereof, of spectrum from regulators.

New research from a recently released report from GlobalData suggests that the delay of spectrum allocations and auctions due to health and financial concerns is more directly linked to the slowdown in operators’ rollout plans than previously thought.

Meanwhile, operators from across the world are also seeing a significant spike in mobile data services over the last two months.

“It is crucial that regulators in the APAC region provide greater transparency and visibility into their spectrum planning, allocation timeframe as well as regulatory changes,” says GlobalData research director Siow Meng Soh.

“There are different approaches that regulators can adopt to improve spectrum efficiency. Greater certainty on spectrum availability will enable mobile operators to plan their investment and activities to get new 5G services to the market in a timely manner.”

But not all regulators have halted their spectrum allocations. The regulator in New Zealand, for example, has directed allocate 5G spectrum in the 3.5GHz band to select operators (Dense Air, Spark and 2degrees) without conducting an auction.

“It is still possible for spectrum auctions to be carried out while addressing health concerns. Regulators could set up online auctions or take extra precautions for on-site auctions,” says Soh.

Meanwhile the American regulator, the FCC, has permitted Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and US Cellular to ‘temporarily borrow’ spectrum from existing licensees in the 600 MHz and AWS frequency bands (1700 MHz / 2100 MHz) for a 60-day period.

“Besides these temporary relief measures, there are other techniques that can be used to improve spectral efficiency. 

“The Licensed Shared Access (LSA) or shared spectrum approach allows licensees to access underutilized licensed spectrum while protecting incumbent user from harmful interference.  

“The FCC’s authorisation of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band is one example. This allows operators to access spectrum that is not used by the incumbent licensees in a particular geographical area to offer 5G services.”

But it’s not just about mobile carriers and faster speeds. 5G is also proving to be a promising prospect in the enterprise space, where businesses are preparing to implement the technology to drive innovation and productivity. 

“Combining the ultra-low latency characteristic of 5G with network slicing and edge computing, different players are collaborating to develop solutions for a myriad of industry-specific use cases,” Soh concludes. 

“For example, cloud providers are partnering with telecom providers to enable cloud developers to build applications by accessing cloud compute and storage services at the edge of the telecom network.”