Analysys Mason: US needs to expand 5G spectrum pipeline and licensing

21 July 2020 2 min. read
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The US needs to expand its 5G spectrum pipeline and license the lower 3 GHz band for commercial use to keep pace with other countries, according to a recent report from Analysys Mason, a consulting firm focusing on the telecom, media, and technology (TMT) sector.

According to the report, the US has no licensed spectrum in a key swath of mid-band spectrum from 3.3-3.6 GHz, compared to other benchmark countries which have made available an average of nearly 200 megahertz.

The mid-band spectrum is key to 5G networks because of its combination of capacity and range. An Analysys Mason report from earlier this year said that the US would need to double its amount of mid-band to keep pace with Japan, China, and South Korea.

Much of the US’ mid-band spectrum is unlicensed, which hinders a successful 5G rollout, according to industry stakeholders. Licensed spectrum is necessary to ensure companies make the long-term heavy network investment needed for 5G; otherwise, risks are significantly increased without assured, long-term, reliable spectrum access. Licensed spectrum also enables wider coverage areas and better quality of service guarantees, according to GSMA.

US needs to expand 5G spectrum pipeline and licensing

"The FCC is making great progress with the auctions of 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz mid-band spectrum this year. This study shows how crucial it is for the U.S. to replicate that success particularly in the lower 3 GHz range," said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA, which commissioned the report. "The Administration and the FCC need to develop a meaningful plan to make at least 250 megahertz in the lower 3 GHz band available for commercial use on terms that will allow robust 5G deployments—and quickly."

The lower 3GHz band is also considered a 5G priority because it allows device and network equipment manufacturers to build harmonized international specifications, which reduce deployment and consumer costs.

In contrast to the mid-band, the US is a global leader in low-band spectrum availability, which was a key pillar of the 4G rollout. The US also leads the globe in licensed high-band spectrum.

"The U.S. is in a very strong position on low- and high-band spectrum, but our work makes clear that mid-band—and the lower 3 GHz range in particular—should remain at the forefront of policymaker efforts," said Janette Stewart, a principal with Analysys Mason and the lead author of the study.