Band(s) on the run

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The last few weeks have been full of stories about (potential 5G) spectrum, mostly mid-band, some of it positive, some of it controversial. At least we cannot complain that the issue is being ignored (as it often was in the past).

Some recent tidbits:

As I have often said, I am skeptical about 5G happening within the next five years in Latin America, except for some very special essentially private applications like de-cabling robots in factories and emerging ideas in mining or agro-industry. The restricted physical range of these applications could use unlicensed spectrum if necessary.

‘Faster smartphones’ will come sooner from advanced flavors of 4G – so called 4.9G – than 5G.  Even then much 5G in the consumer space (which will come eventually) will be managed with hot-spot implementations, the kind of thing done with unlicensed spectrum today. Verizon and AT&T’s wireless 5G broadband in 2019 is fixed not mobile. (Which is why I have no idea why anyone would get excited about a 5G-ready phone that does not do 5G.)

So I think everyone should just calm down on the 5G hype.

(Maybe only Canadians of a certain age will get this – and maybe only Montrealers – but check out this 1976 cartoon for what I am asking everyone to do.)

Today the priority should not be on what band.

For one thing, 5G is so voracious about spectrum that there will be implementations in lots of bands. The band standardization that was so important in 4G will be largely irrelevant: manufacturers will have to make their equipment work in almost any band.

Rather the big issue for Latin American regulators is reforming their concepts about spectrum management. For example,

  • Why do they keep spectrum caps so infernally low? Yes, licensed spectrum has to be assigned in an orderly fashion. Yes, competition policy has to keep one player from running away with scarce ‘real estate’. But low spectrum caps are not relevant for either of these. They just get in the way of spectrum aggregation opportunities in higher-level 4G and 5G.
  • How will the spectrum needs of non-traditional players be managed? Today I allocate myself 2.4GHz or 5.2GHz spectrum by buying a WiFi router – or a cordless phone – and plugging it in. What if I want to connect up my factory in a suburban industrial park with a 5G ‘cable-less’ system? Or my mine site in the middle of nowhere? What if my robots are in the middle of a busy city?
  • Will unlicensed spectrum be viewed as an opportunity? Or (as above) as a threat? The easy answer (regulatory-speaking) is to force all spectrum to be licensed. The downside is that this might restrict innovation and even competition rather severely.
  • How will network slicing be regulated? 5G network slicing (which should also be available in very advanced 4G systems) is the most dramatic, innovative and game-changing part of the spec. Managed properly, it would allow regulators to give all the spectrum to licensed operators without stifling innovation. Managed improperly… As has been noted many times, ‘Plays well with others’ is not an attribute of Latin American operators.

These four topics are of major importance with significant leverage over how the industry will evolve over the next 20 years.

They will need a lot of work.

And they are a lot more important today than whether the band is 2.3 or 2.5 or 3.5 or 700 or…



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