Presently, 42 countries in the world are either holding consultations regarding 5G-suitable spectrum, reserved spectrum for 5G or announced plans to auction frequencies in that spectrum. In Europe, 12 countries are currently holding consultations (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, UK) and seven countries are planning 5G spectrum auctions/allocations between 2018 and 2020 (Austria, Finland, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland).
In Asia-Pacific four countries are currently actively consulting or considering options (India, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) with at least eight auctions being planned (Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam). Countries in the Middle East and Africa are consulting on 5G spectrum or planning relevant auctions include: Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and UAE. In the Americas, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and USA are also looking at the future use of spectrum suitable for 5G services.
Global 5G Frontrunners:
5G has picked up lot of pace in some major telecom markets like China, Japan, South Korea, the USA, Australia, Europe and Brazil.
In November 2017, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued the frequency plan for the 3300–3400 MHz, 3400–3600 MHz, and 4800–5000 MHz bands for IMT-2020 (5G). It stated that the 3300–3400 MHz band would be for indoor use for 5G services. At the same time, a series of 5G verification tests is being implemented by China’s IMT 2020 (5G) promotion group. The first two tests have been completed. The third set of verification tests will continue until September 2018. Many of the trials in these tests used C-band spectrum (largely around 3500 MHz), with the occasional test in the 26 GHz band.
In South Korea there has been much discussion of the use of pre-standards 5G networks and technology during the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in PyeongChang. The country’s two largest operators – KT and SK Telekom – both plan live ‘5G’ networks for the event in February 2018. KT plans to use the 28 GHz band. SK Telecom has also been trialling the 28 GHz band for future 5G services, alongside the 3500 MHz band.
In Japan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) has declared that the official 5G bands in the archipelago are 3700 MHz, 4500 MHz (a maximum of 500 MHz in sub-6 GHz bands), and 28 GHz (a maximum allocation of 2 GHz bandwidth). Among the operators in the country there has been a broad mix of different spectrum used for trials, including 3500 MHz, 4500 MHz, 28 GHz, and 70 GHz.
The US decided in July 2016 to use mmWave spectrum for 5G services in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz bands for licensed services (3.85 GHz bandwidth) and 64–71 GHz for unlicensed services. In November 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened an additional 1.7 GHz of spectrum in the 24 GHz and 47 GHz bands for mobile licensed use. Currently, the US operators have confined their 5G trials to 28 GHz, 39 GHz and 15 GHz bands, with some of them also testing in 2.5 GHz spectrum.
The US has completed an auction of 600 MHz for mobile operators and is in the process of clearing the bands; some early deployment has already commenced. The US has allocated 3550–3700 MHz for deployment under a spectrum access system (SAS) and is currently in the process of approving SAS; operation is expected in 2018 with auctions at a later date. The US has started considering 3700–4200 MHz, 5.925–6.425 GHz and 6.425–7.125 GHz for allocation. Rule-making is expected to progress in 2018.
Canada is holding a consultation on a future auction in the 614–698 MHz band as well as considering mobile allocations in 28 GHz, 37 GHz; 39 GHz and 67–71 GHz.
Australia has focused initially on the 3400 MHz band. A process to distribute spectrum in that band is currently underway. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has also made public its plans to auction the 3600 MHz band for 5G use in October–December 2018 and mmWave band in July–September 2019. An auction of 1500 MHz spectrum is also expected to take place in October–December 2019. In the meantime, two of its leading operators – Telstra and Optus – have used the 26 GHz and 73 GHz bands respectively to conduct their latest 5G trials.
In Europe, considerable 5G preparatory work has focused on the 3400–3800 MHz spectrum range. Italy looks set to be one of the most active countries in terms of 5G trials after its Ministry of Economic Development made frequencies available for trialling pre-standards 5G. Five leading operators in the country have expressed intent to trial 5G in the 3600–3800 MHz band. Many other spectrum bands are also being investigated for 5G though, including 700 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2600 MHz, 4650–4850 MHz, 15 GHz, 24.25–29.5 GHz, as well as 70 GHz.
In Brazil, the telecom regulator (ANATEL) has declared the 3500 MHz as suitable for 5G. As a whole, South America has some catching up to do when it comes to 5G trials. Some of the few tests took place in late 2017 when Movistar Argentina used 28 GHz band to conduct a 5G lab test, achieving speeds of up to 20 Gbit/s, and Claro Chile began lab tests at 27 GHz.
The most common frequency band being considered for use for 5G technology is the 3400–3600 MHz band. At present 32 countries have either announced auctions in that band or are holding consultation talks. The next most common band is the 3600–3800 MHz range and then the 24.25–29.5 GHz range with 20 and 17 countries auctioning, or consulting on use of, this spectrum respectively. At present, telecom regulators around the world are either auctioning or considering auctioning spectrum in 18 different spectrum bands for future 5G services, ranging from 600 MHz to 64–86 GHz.
5G technologies promise the ability to serve different classes of application, using network slicing and efficient allocation of network resources, and the increasing number of 5G trials worldwide demonstrates rapid moves towards these goals. GSA has identified 113 operators that have been involved in or are planning 5G trials representing 56 countries. Operators in USA and Japan have been the most active, followed by China, South Korea, Italy, UK and Germany. So far, few trials have been conducted in Latin America or Africa.
Sixty-two telecom operators in 32 countries have been actively involved in 5G trials where we know the spectrum bands used. GSA has identified operators in 19 countries in EMEA that have been or are currently trialling 5G services in identified spectrum bands. It is interesting to note that 15 mobile operators in Slovakia have recently been awarded licences in the 5G-suitable 3600–3800 MHz band by the country’s Office for Regulation of Electronic Communications & Postal Services. However, it is currently unclear if they are planning to use their frequency allocations for 5G trials soon.
In the Asia-Pacific region, operators in nine countries are or have been trialling using 5G-suitable frequencies. Operators in Argentina, Canada, Chile, USA have also staged 5G trials in spectrum that could potentially be used for 5G. These regions and countries are expected to take the lead in introducing the new technology.