Russia still hung up on spectrum for 5G

The launch of mainstream 5G mobile service remains a distant dream for Russia, as other countries race ahead with deployments, services and further enhancements such as separate 5G core networks.

A spokesperson for Beeline Russia (owned by VEON) confirmed that the mobile network operators (MNOs) are "seeing significant technical limitations in the use of existing radio services using the main spectrum band for the development of 5G mobile networks over the 3.4-3.8GHz band. This currently prevents allocation of this band to MNOs and the reallocation of this band is required to enable conversion activities to start."

Indeed, the 3.5GHz band is prime spectrum real estate for 5G, with MNOs in multiple countries now using the mid-band frequencies for network deployments.

Beeline's comments echo earlier remarks from MTS, Russia's biggest mobile operator. In 2020, Andrey Kamensky, the chief financial officer of MTS, told Light Reading that regulators in Russia "are unwilling to allocate in the 3.4-3.8GHz range, which is the bandwidth for 5G in most countries."

New venture

The country's four mobile operators Beeline, MegaFon, Rostelecom and MTS all now own a 25% stake in a joint venture called New Digital Solutions, which has the stated aim of helping to build a common 5G network. The MNOs are hoping that the venture will help overcome some of these spectrum hurdles.

According to the Beeline spokesperson, the creation of the joint venture "will help the conversion of 3.4-3.8GHz and other 5G bands, and its future use for next generation network development. The joint approach by the four MNOs is more cost efficient and allows [us] to create [a] single party for more effective use of the existing spectrum."

The spokesperson added that the role of the joint venture will be to arrange and execute technical and organizational projects.

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"This includes working with existing spectrum users on spectrum release and rearrangement for 5G. The scope of these projects will mainly cover EMC testing, implementation of system improvements and coordination in the 5G network launch in order to ensure fair spectrum distribution among parties. We will also be providing recommendations to the regulator on possible options for 5G implementation," the spokesperson said.

The Interfax news agency reported this week that the JV aims to test 5G for electromagnetic compatibility, conduct research on frequencies for building 5G networks, and implement measures to free up spectrum from existing applications, including but not limited to the bands 694MHz-790MHz, 3.4GHz-3.8GHz, 4.4GHz-4.99GHz and 24.25GHz-29.5GHz.

The news agency further noted that in November 2021, the State Commission for Radio Frequencies (SCRF) allocated bands to New Digital Solutions in the 4400MHz-4990MHz range for testing 5G technology for two years. However, the commission did not allow the JV to test the bands 4555-4630 MHz and 4990-5000 MHz, which are used by Russian security agencies.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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