With carriers investing heavily and 5G network deployments underway, the U.S. will win the global 5G race, at least in the short-term, according to advisory firm ABI Research. However, to secure the nation’s long-term wireless leadership, industry group CTIA is stressing the need for access to additional mid-band spectrum.
ABI’s latest research cites early investments on 5G-related spectrums, deployments and tests in the past years, coupled with the size of the U.S. market and the customer’s high willingness to pay, together as providing “a unique environment to U.S.-based firms to flourish.”
The U.S. also has a stronghold because of carriers’ fiscal position, with the firm forecasting mobile service providers will spend about $40 billion on network infrastructure alone during 2019.
Early respective 5G launches from Verizon and AT&T are using high-band millimeter wave spectrum, which can handle very high data speeds and capacity but limited propagation characteristics mean signals are unable to travel long distances. T-Mobile is focusing on nationwide coverage in 2020 using low-band spectrum that provides better coverage but more constrained capacity and speed. Sprint, meanwhile, is rolling out 2.5 GHz and focused on upgradable Massive MIMO technology.
In a Tuesday post, CTIA emphasized that a mix of high-, mid-, and low-band spectrum will be needed for next-gen 5G networks, as mid-band spectrum between 3 and 24 GHz provides a blend that can still deliver high capacity but across larger areas.
A report released Tuesday from the Analysis Group found freeing up mid-band spectrum for 5G would help boost the country’s economy. Specifically, if 400 MHz of mid-band spectrum was made available, building and deploying would add $247 billion to the U.S. economy and create over 1.3 million new jobs over a seven year span. The firm found wireless providers would invest more than $150 billion to build infrastructure to deliver 5G services over mid-band spectrum.
“Newly allocated mid-band spectrum will complement the spectrum wireless providers are currently using, allowing the blend of coverage and capacity necessary to bring revolutionary 5G services to the U.S.,” said David Sosa, Principal at Analysis Group. “The investment required to build out 5G networks to use this spectrum will generate substantial economic benefits in the form of higher GDP and job creation in communities large and small.”
A separate review of 13 countries from Analysys Mason found that the U.S. is trailing other countries in access to mid-band spectrum. By 2020, China has plans to release more than seven times more mid-band spectrum than the U.S., while Japan plans to make 10 times more mid-band available. South Korea, the U.K., Australia, Italy and Spain are also ahead of the U.S., according to Analysys Mason.
Indeed, ABI Research noted long-term 5G leadership isn’t guaranteed, as other countries have massive deployments planned.
“The long-term outcome of the 5G race is still uncertain. Even Chinese investments and spectrum allocations are late, the scale of the upcoming 5G deployments is simply unprecedented,” says Emanuel Kolta, Research Analyst at ABI Research.
CTIA says there is good news—pointing to the 3.5 CBRS band, which FCC finalized auction rules for last year to open up 70 MHz of licensed spectrum. The agency is also considering repurposing up to 500 MHz in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and NTIA is considering how the 3.45 GHz band can be utilized for 5G, the group noted.
The reports came as industry group leaders testified before the U.S. Senate at a hearing Wednesday on 5G, titled “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States.”
CTIA says it’s time to act, and Congress can help—citing last year’s bipartisan AIRWAVES Act that laid out timelines for freeing up additional spectrum.
“AIRWAVES remedies the mid-band deficit by providing access to the same spectrum bands that are being made available throughout Asia and Europe, CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said. “By matching up our mid-band spectrum with global bands, we unlock economies of scale and reduce the costs—and time— to deploy.”
In the quest for 5G leadership, rural America should not be left behind, CTIA underscored, noting the AIRWAVES Act would set aside 10 percent of proceeds from new spectrum auctions for wireless network buildouts in rural communities. The group says additional $6 billion would have been available for rural wireless builds had this stipulation been in place during the AWS-3 and Broadcast Incentive Auctions.
Steven Berry, president and CEO of Competitive Carriers Association, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee today echoed the need to prioritize expanding wireless broadband services in underserved areas of the country and freeing up additional spectrum.
“Ensuring consumers in rural areas have access to 5G service is not inevitable, and policymakers’ decisions on advanced technologies is critical – not only in the global ‘race to 5G,’ but also, and more importantly, for the economic, educational, health and social benefit of American consumers,” Berry said. “Rural areas are at a significant crossroads, and decisions made by Congress on a few key issues can ‘make or break’ efforts to close the digital divide.”
“Berry continued, “First, we must have reliable data to determine where broadband coverage exists and where it does not. Without accurate data, unserved and underserved areas risk being left behind, and the digital divide will become even wider – a result that no one wants. With better data at the ready, Congress should reinvigorate USF policies, ensure all carriers have access to low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum, streamline infrastructure deployment policies and define a clear pathway for enhanced security.”