5Qs on 5G: With UK Spectrum Policy Forum

Raj Sivalingam Executive Director, Telecoms and UK Spectrum Policy Forum

The UK Spectrum Policy Forum, facilitated by techUK, provides an industry sounding board to the British government and Ofcom on future spectrum management and regulatory policy. With the aim of harnessing industrial insights across the field, the body has fastened a keen eye on the development of 5G.

Raj Sivalingam is the executive director of the forum, a role which involves the leadership of activities in support of telecommunications-based companies. He spoke to Inside5G about how the forum is viewing the next-generation network.

What is the future of spectrum for 5G in your opinion?

There are various multifaceted requirements in 5G which in turn often provide conflicting requirements for the spectrum. There is a consensus though that a mix of frequency bands in lower and higher frequency would be needed  and the bandwidth of these bands should be sufficiently large.

“a minimum bandwidth of 500-1000MHz per network could be needed to deliver the high throughput that would be expected from 5G”

This means the ability to re-farm mobile spectrum currently used for previous generations as well as use of new bands. There is an emerging view that in the new high frequency bands, a minimum bandwidth of 500-1000MHz per network could be needed to deliver the high throughput that would be expected from 5G technology.

How big a role does the government have to play in a 5G future?

“Government and regulatory bodies like Ofcom would be key to achieving a consensus between different spectrum using applications”

Government and regulatory bodies like Ofcom would be key to achieving a consensus between different spectrum using applications, each with their own set of conflicting and sometimes overlapping requirements. While identifying new spectrum (for future mobile services) is one of the requirements they also need to ensure that the incumbent services are not impacted unduly.

This may sometimes lead to conflicts between various industries that move, due to the nature of the applications, at different paces. For example, the mobile industry focuses on providing high data throughout and its technology changes happen at frequent intervals, while the satellite industry focuses on providing ubiquitous coverage and the cost, risk and life-cycles of the technology means that the changes happen at a slower pace.

“The Government and regulatory bodies are responsible for … ensuring that 5G does not prove detrimental to any existing spectrum “

The Government and regulatory bodies are responsible for understanding these different industries and ensuring that 5G does not prove detrimental to any existing spectrum using services and industries.

Is 5G destined for spectrum in high-frequency bands and do you believe LTE spectrum should be refarmed for 5G?

Due to the diverse set of requirements on 5G, there is a consensus that it would need a combination of spectrum from very low frequencies to very high frequencies. It could roughly be split as follows:

  • Very low sub 2GHz band for coverage
  • Between 2GHz and 6GHz for capacity
  • Above 6GHz (most probably above 30GHz) for dense coverage using small cells

“we do not think that it is mandatory for LTE spectrum to be refarmed for 5G”

Many people in the industry believe that 5G will be backwards compatible with existing radio technologies like HSPA/HSPA+, LTE/LTE-A and Wi-Fi. This will ensure that the end user is ‘Always Best Connected’. Hence we do not think that it is mandatory for LTE spectrum to be refarmed for 5G , at least in the short to mid-term, but may occur in the longer term.

Where are the UK in terms of spectrum compared with other nations?

Historically, the UK has been a very avid user of spectrum due to it being advanced in major technological areas and progressive policies on spectrum management. This, and its geography, means that the use of spectrum is generally far more intensive than in many other industrialised nations.

“UK needs to both an innovator in pioneering new applications of spectrum and also proactively working in international arena”

Being first also means that it cannot learn some of the things the same way as some late-adopting nations can. A continuous process of harmonisation of the spectrum is necessary to bring the spectrum allocation in line with other countries, benefitting from lower device cost due to economy of scale and ease of roaming due to common frequency bands usage.

To be a leader, the UK needs to both an innovator in pioneering new applications of spectrum and also proactively working in international arena to ‘internationalise’ such usage.

What do you believe is the purpose of 5G and how can it impact life in the UK?

While there is no agreed definition yet of what ‘5G’ is and what technologies it will use, there is a broad agreement on the requirements . Based on the requirements, some use cases have been defined by various industry bodies.

“the real value will come from reliability and just the right amount and speed necessary for an application and service”

While the use case often touted is being able to download movies in a few seconds or minutes, the real value will come from reliability and just the right amount and speed necessary for an application and service.

When you drive a car, depending on the traffic condition and/or speed limits you use the right gear, in the same way 5G technology will have various parameters to deliver optimum service for every possible use case.

We released the first part of  our ‘UK Spectrum Usage & Demand’ report back in March where we identified the use of spectrum by the public mobile, utilities, business radio and space. In the coming months we will release an updated version that includes other industries like broadcasting, defence, transportation, amateur radio, internet of things and machine-to-machine, smart cities, scientific and medical, meteorology, etc.

“5G … should ensure that there is no negative impact on any of these other spectrum using applications and services”

The aim is to make the wider community aware of how big the spectrum using industry is. While 5G may not be able to work with and benefit all these industries, it should ensure that there is no negative impact on any of these other spectrum using applications and services.

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