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The Evolution of 5G Spectrum

Developing a comprehensive roadmap for new commercially available spectrum is necessary to ensure the successful deployment of future mobile networks. Balancing both licensed and unlicensed spectrum is vital for the mobile industry. The upper mid-band spectrum, ranging from 7.125-15.35 GHz, is key to leveraging existing infrastructure for increased capacity. 5G Americas emphasizes identifying new spectrum integral to a U.S. National Spectrum Strategy pipeline, ensuring rapid commercialization, and sustained technological leadership. 

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2030 has codified various usage scenarios that form the basis for spectrum needs. These scenarios highlight the necessity for high data rates and wide-area coverage for applications like immersive experiences, next generation healthcare monitoring, human-machine interfaces, and Joint Communications and Sensing (JCAS). 

Key topics covered in this latest 5G Americas white paper include: 

  • U.S. spectrum position compared with other countries 
  • Anticipated spectrum needs from 2027 to 2030 
  • Desired spectrum characteristics of target bands 
  • Techniques to enable use of cellular systems in new bands 
  • Current and future use of mmWave 
  • Sub-THz spectrum for new 6G use cases 
  • ITU WRC-23 Decisions 

“5G Americas supports the 7.125 to 15.35 GHz spectrum range, especially below 10 GHz, for licensed mobile operations for its balance in capacity and coverage. Opening bands in this range involves exploring relocations and sharing strategies. Additionally, mmWave bands are important for deployments in dense locations like urban cores, transportation depots, busy streets, and entertainment venues, and also for fixed wireless access deployments.  Sub-THz bands offer very large bandwidths that may be suitable for specialized use cases,” said work group co-leader Aleksandar Damnjanovic, Principal Engineer/Manager at Qualcomm Technologies Inc.

This white paper is also provided in a more condensed briefing paper format below.

In response to an expected fourfold cellular network traffic increase by 2028, the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference recently decided to identify spectrum in the 4.4-15.5 GHz range for future wireless technology deployments. The wireless industry needs access to more spectrum to support new applications like XR, connected cars, and the metaverse.

Executive Summary

5G revolutionized mobile broadband service by increasing the communications speeds and reducing air interface latency while simultaneously improving reliability. 5G-Advanced, currently standardized in 3GPP, will establish a foundation and direction for 6G by the end of this decade. As was the case for previous generations of mobile networks, successful deployment of 5G-Advanced and 6G will depend on the availability of new spectrum. It is critical to develop national strategy for new spectrum roadmap to ensure successful deployments of future mobile networks. However, new spectrum is increasingly difficult to find due to incumbencies, and this paper summarizes potential approaches for securing new spectrum for mobile networks.

The regulatory discussions currently taking place are relevant to new spectrum allocations that could be utilized to deploy new mobile networks by the end of this decade. Usage scenarios developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2030 form the basis for spectrum needs, estimates, and considerations on spectrum requirements. Use cases and applications, particularly those involving immersive experiences, rely on extremely high data rates, and require wide-area coverage to realize their full potential. This use case and others, such as joint communications and sensing, require large contiguous bandwidth, and potentially large coverage areas. It is important for U.S. regulators to consider the balance between licensed and unlicensed to make sure the mobile wireless industry has the appropriate amount of licensed spectrum to serve societies mobile communications needs.

Spectrum between 7.125 GHz and 15.35 GHz (preferably portion below 10 GHz) is suitable to satisfy the desirable capacity-coverage combination. The incumbencies in this frequency range require either relocations or the employment of sharing techniques. These could be existing techniques developed for other bands, or new sharing techniques that allow deployments of mobile networks. In addition to the 7.125-15.35 GHz range, mmWave bands continue to provide opportunities for mobile networks where high capacity is the primary deployment requirement. Sub-THz bands provide opportunities for next generation wireless technology to address new use cases with extremely high data rate requirements.

2023 ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) adopted a new agenda item to identify a spectrum pipeline within the 4.4-15.5 GHz range for the next generation of wireless technology.

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