It may be some years from full rollout, but 5G is clearly close enough to inspire a few dramatic headlines. Take this one for instance over a recent Mobile Europe story: ‘UK telcos plead for stability in issuing mmWave bands’.
The headline seems to rather neatly summarise the central problem with mmWave in the UK: an apparent regulatory reluctance to create stable spectrum availability for the 26GHz band. This, it appears, is causing some dismay among certain operators and vendors — specifically the operator and vendor members of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum.
Is the spectrum going to be sold off to MNOs? Is there going to be a flexible policy that allows new players to take part, or that permits acquisition of different spectrum amounts — or even leasing? We don’t know yet.
Spectrum strategy is clearly important. Real Wireless, for example, has argued that shared spectrum in the mmWave bands will contribute to improved spectrum efficiency.
But focusing on spectrum strategy won’t address other problems — like rollout planning. There is already a worrying trend towards planning inertia in 4G that we feel is crippling the growth of small cells. mmWave platforms will involve even more small cells than 4G. Whatever mmWave spectrum decisions are made that isn’t going to change. Therefore regulatory and local planning policy also need to be addressed.
And there are other aspects of technology readiness, systems and standards to be resolved. Like the role of fibre. Arqiva has acquired an additional 28GHz spectrum licence covering much of London. It will be used for fixed wireless access (FWA). This work in high 20GHz bands may offer some guidance on business case, product readiness testing and FWA/5G commercial viability.
In fact investment in fibre certainly seems to be increasing. What does that mean for mmWave? Could fibre be a support, a hindrance or a minor player? We should be thinking about this now — especially if we are to respond to the findings of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) study on how technology can improve infrastructure productivity, which is due before the end of the year.
We also need to think further ahead — for instance about the sort of technology that will reduce barriers to mmWave adoption in the mid-2020s. WRC19 (the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference) in particular could — and should — be encouraged to offer stable decisions and direction in this area.
There are other considerations too. The ability of high capacity cells to offload the coverage layer (especially necessary with mmWave) will be highly dependent on the quality of placement. Increased intelligence of placement that benefits from enhancements to standard planning methodologies is necessary. Real Wireless has already built and is enhancing planning tools that can be applied to 5G.
But better placement will have to do more; it must incorporate knowledge about the services and temporal-spatial demand profiles that may apply as we move away from standard data-and-dumb-pipe thinking and towards service-oriented architectures.
However, we need clearer thinking on potential demand profiles from industry players before such an approach is adopted. These issues are strongly implied by 5G and mmWave but not necessarily being addressed.
To sum up then, while it may be perfectly reasonable to request a bit more urgency in creating stable spectrum availability for the 26GHz band, mmWave isn’t just about getting on with it; it’s about getting it right when we do.
Focusing on mmWave spectrum strategy could mean that some of the practicalities of mmWave don’t get the attention they require. However, if those practicalities are not addressed the resulting indecision could scupper even the most operator-and-vendor-friendly approach to spectrum strategy.