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GSMA: 5G is 'at risk' if 6GHz remains unlicensed

The GSMA trade group issued another plea for global spectrum regulators to set aside at least part of the 6GHz band for licensed 5G operations. "The global future of 5G is at risk," the GSMA wrote in a new blog post.

"5G has the potential to boost the world's GDP [gross domestic product] by $2.2 trillion," said John Giusti, the GSMA's chief regulatory officer, in a statement. "But there is a clear threat to this growth if sufficient 6GHz spectrum is not made available for 5G. Clarity and certainty are essential to fostering the massive, long-term investments in this critical infrastructure."

According to the global wireless industry's main trade group, spectrum regulators need to set aside 1-2GHz of total spectrum for 5G to meet users' demands through 2030. And a large chunk of that spectrum should come from the 6GHz band, it said.

"The 6GHz range is a midband frequency and sits at a balancing point between coverage and capacity, providing the perfect environment for 5G connectivity," the GSMA argued with vendors Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and ZTE.

The problem, though, is that global policymakers have split over how to use the 6GHz band. Regulators in the US and throughout much of Latin America have set aside the full 6GHz band for unlicensed activities, including Wi-Fi. China, meantime, is allocating the full 6GHz band toward licensed 5G operations. And Europe is split between those two extremes.

"The World Radiocommunication Conference in 2023 will provide the opportunity to harmonise the 6GHz band across large parts of the planet and help develop the ecosystem," the GSMA argued.

In the US, the issue appears largely settled. American regulators at the FCC voted last year to allocate the entire 6GHz band for unlicensed operations, including Wi-Fi. Indeed, commercial Wi-Fi devices working in the 6GHz band have already begun hitting the market.

The FCC's vote represented a setback to some players like Ericsson, Verizon and T-Mobile that had urged the Commission to set aside some or all of the 6GHz band for licensed uses, including 5G.

But the GSMA is hoping for a kind of do-over at the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2023. It's unclear whether US regulators will reverse course.

Indeed, a large group of US tech companies is moving ahead with new proposals under the FCC's existing guidelines for 6GHz. For example, representatives from Apple, Facebook, Google, Qualcomm and others recently met with FCC officials to discuss the possibility of mobile operations in the 6GHz band.

Specifically, the companies urged regulators to approve three new activities in the 6GHz band in the US:

  1. Client-to-client communications (which would allow devices to talk directly to each other).
  2. Very Low Power operations (which would allow low-power communications without Automatic Frequency Coordination technology).
  3. Mobile operations (which would permit mobile connections using Automatic Frequency Coordination technology for services such as mass transit connectivity).

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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