Global opportunities for 5G terrestrial communications

Over the past 30+ years, the mobile community has built a phenomenal global social and economic success story.

The commercial drive of the mobile ecosystem and the global IMT‑2020 vision means information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity can now be considered a vital utility service.

The deployment of 5G mobile technology will further extend this utility as Internet protocol-based mobile communications become the bedrock of mobile standards; and the release of new spectrum satisfies the growing service demands of both business and consumers.

ITU has played a leading role in the global success of enabling 5.7 billion users to be connected via a mobile IMT phone. The mobile industry is determined to enable the remaining 3 billion people of the world’s population to also be connected by 2030 as well as 100 billion Internet of Things (IoT).

Spectrum must be utilized in the most efficient and cost effective way, and spectrum availability must not impact the commercial requirements of the broader mobile ecosystem.

Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) fully expects that, with the right industry focus, 5G technology will be deployed faster than previous technology generations. According to Ovum data, 3G took 10 years to reach 1 billion subscriptions; by comparison 4G took less than six years. GSA expects 5G to take less than five years to reach 1 billion subscriptions.

For this growth and adoption of 5G to happen three initiatives need to align:

The mobile ecosystem of global suppliers has to forward invest in 5G networks.

This is already happening with infrastructure, chip and device manufacturers accelerating the availability of 5G software and hardware, while also making economic strides in reducing the costs of deployment and management of 5G technology.

Government support for 5G trials and early deployments in both developed and developing countries is also essential. According to GSA data, as of end June 2019, there were 90 announced 5G devices, twenty-five of which were phones/smartphones, based on chipsets from four silicon vendors.

GSA has also reported that infrastructure suppliers are supporting 280 Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in 94 countries where 5G networks have either been or are being deployed, trialed, tested or where operators have been licensed to deploy mobile 5G or home broadband 5G.

The availability of 5G spectrum needs to be accelerated.

5G will require spectrum in the low bands (below 2 GHz), mid bands (2 GHz to around 6 GHz) and high bands (above 6 GHz) to achieve the full IMT‑2020 vision of mobile broadband for the mass-market, including serving rural areas that have not always benefited from mobile communications.

New spectrum in the high bands such as 26 GHz, 28 GHz and 40 GHz are being made available, depending on regional availability, and harmonization of these bands will facilitate the rapid deployment of the ecosystem and 5G networks.

Those high bands will be important in delivering high capacity in urban hot-spots, narrow city “canyons” and in-building.

5G is also highly relevant in the low frequency bands such as 600 MHz, 700 MHz and 800 MHz, and will enable the mobile industry to deliver rural mass market home broadband along with the mid and high bands.

Mid bands offer a good balance between coverage and capacity for 5G optimal deployment in suburban areas. The the mid band will be the spectrum bridge between wide coverage and high capacity services.

The high bands will help deliver the Gbps throughput required by high-quality gaming, virtual/augmented reality, video and enterprise applications due to the wider spectrum bands.

Therefore, spectrum within all three bands, low, mid and high, will be required by 5G to deliver an economically viable service if ITU is to realize its Strategic Plan for the Union for 2020–2023.

5G must reach in-building.

The quality of 3G or 4G coverage in buildings needs to improve, and is a major headache for enterprises, which will only increase in severity, since modern buildings are built to reflect radio waves. This restriction can be turned into an advantage by using the high bands in-building in addition to outdoor.

To achieve ubiquitous 5G in-building mobile broadband coverage, spectrum should be made available in the most harmonious and efficient way; either with MNOs building out dedicated in-building networks with their own licensed spectrum, or leasing or sharing licensed spectrum to enterprises, or to 3rd party in-building operators.

In addition, some regulators are considering, making part of the spectrum available to enterprises or agencies on a localized basis.

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Enterprise demand for 5G is being demonstrated, and innovative applications that will utilize 5G advantages including ultra-low latency with autonomous cars, factory automation and robotics and mobile video conferencing will also require massive broadband.

Spectrum must be utilized in the most efficient and cost-effective way, and spectrum availability must not impact the commercial requirements of the broader mobile ecosystem.

Expansion of the mobile ecosystem

The mobile ecosystem is expanding out of the traditional mobile supplier base to additionally include system integrators, automotive and aerospace companies, factory automation suppliers, utilities, robotic innovators, and many more.

As an industry we have a responsibility to meet the expectations of our customers and the Sustainable Development Goals.

IMT‑2020/5G will provide a ubiquitous, high speed and high quality, intelligent broadband connectivity experience, at home, in the office, on all forms of transport, when travelling at high speed, when in basement offices or on the top floor of a city skyrise complex, or in a rural location.

Spectrum, and the harmonization of a broad range of spectrum bands from low to mid and high, will meet and ideally exceed the expectation of all users in developed and developing countries. The industry has come a phenomenal way in a relatively short period of time.

The next challenge is to make intelligent connectivity (powered by 5G, AI and IoT) available in each corner of our world — for the global economy, and social benefits — and IMT‑2020/5G mobile technology and ITU has a key role to play in making that vision a reality.

*This article is one of a series commissioned for the ‘Terrestrial Wireless Communications’ edition of ITU News Magazine. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.