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Mid-Band Spectrum Update

As the key ingredient for wireless technology, radio frequency spectrum is an important resource. One of the most useful spectrum bands for 5G is mid-band, which ranges between 1 GHz and 6 GHz, and offers a balance of speed, capacity, coverage, and penetration for cellular wireless networks.

With total global demand for mobile network data traffic at 90 exabytes per month and increasing at 40 percent annually, new levels of spectral efficiency and flexibility are required by 5G and future networks. It is imperative that additional spectrum in the mid-band is allocated by governments, as it works exceptionally well for densely populated metropolitan areas where connectivity demand is high. Millimeter wave (mmWave) and other high bands will also play a key role in servicing capacity demands, where offloading requirements from the mid-band spectrum can occur when and where needed.

“Mid-Band Spectrum Update” provides an overview of current and potential new mid-band and extended mid-band spectrum availability in the United States over the next several years, including technical characteristics and challenges, as well as policy and regulatory landscape.  

Some key topics surrounding mid-band spectrum in this 5G Americas report include:

  • Mid Band Spectrum Overview
  • Current and Potential New Mid-band and Extended Mid-band Spectrum
  • Current and Planned Mid-band Deployment Status in the U.S
  • Maximizing Utility for 5G Mid-band Spectrum
  • Mid-band Spectrum Pipeline Update

Karri Kuoppamaki, Senior Vice President, Network Technology Development and Strategy for T-Mobile US said, “Mid-band spectrum is key for unlocking new applications and truly delivering on the promise of 5G. It is essential to have a long-term spectrum pipeline to fuel growth in the 5G ecosystem, and this 5G Americas white paper is a good step toward understanding future potential mid-band spectrum opportunities.”

The main challenge to allocation of new mid-band spectrum is that none of the potential bands are clear and without incumbents. Making additional mid-band spectrum available is not an easy path but it can be made possible with identification of potential bands, planning for incumbents and all of the key stakeholders cooperating in the process.

Executive Summary

5G, the “fifth generation” of wireless cellular technology, offers a vast range of capabilities compared to the previous generations of mobile technology. The high capacity and low latency of 5G communications allow not only for enhanced wireless broadband with ultra-high speeds, but also for additional functionalities and a wide range of optimized services that take advantage of this new interface. 5G technology expands the value of mobile networks by enabling new mobile services into new industries and connecting devices and people across an array of new applications. It can also help close the digital divide where people do not have access to the latest technology or decent connectivity.

However, the increasing demand of data traffic and subscriber growth requires new levels of spectral efficiency and flexibility. Massive MIMO, adaptive antenna technology, and other spectral efficiency techniques continue to evolve to support operators with access to deliver a powerful 5G experience to its consumers nationwide. Yet, technology alone is not enough to meet the consumer demand for higher speeds and enhanced user experiences.

What’s required is spectrum: the key ingredient for any wireless technology. The amount and type of spectrum available to a network can impact its capabilities, and 5G networks require access to multiple ranges of frequency bands—from low, mid to high. While low-bands are the foundation for every network, they do not meet all the service requirements for more advanced use cases, including those that require higher performance and capacity per user or higher densities of users. These use cases are better supported by spectrum in the mid-band or extended mid-band.

Worryingly, there are currently no bands in the spectrum pipeline in the United States as of March 2023. Because identification, allocation and repurposing of spectrum is a multiyear process, the lack of spectrum in the pipeline is a critical concern. A spectrum pipeline can provide investment certainty by identifying the specific frequency bands where regulatory and possible legislative action is planned. Such a pipeline can also ensure that spectrum considerations are receiving the proper attention to make spectrum available for commercial uses in the proper timeframe. Without such a plan, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. stated that the “U.S. risks falling behind our counterparts by failing to replenish the commercial spectrum pipeline.”

This white paper provides an overview of current and potential new mid-band and extended mid-band spectrum availability in the United States over the next several years, including technical characteristics and challenges, as well as policy and regulatory landscape. The realization of new bands in these spectrum ranges depends on several developments, including studies and solutions for coexistence with incumbent services.

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