Hands Off Our 5G Spectrum – Vodafone's Message for Verticals

Iain Morris
2/26/2019

BARCELONA -- MWC19 -- A clash between operators and the industries they see as future 5G customers could be brewing after one of Vodafone's senior technology executives slammed proposals to reserve chunks of 5G spectrum for industrial use.

Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone's chief engineer and a senior figure within the GSM Association, said the plans would have an impact on 5G services for all users, warning regulators to expect opposition from the telecom sector.

"There are some consultations in certain countries regarding ringfencing mobile spectrum for industrial use cases and for operators this is not the correct approach because you end up reducing the trunking efficiency by locking up spectrum in a way that doesn't allow us to get the full benefits," he said during a press conference organized by the NGMN Alliance at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

"I would advocate continued mobile spectrum use in a way where we can get the benefits of 5G and allow factory systems to use the same spectrum but have it controlled in a seamless way by operator partners," he continued.

The proposals have already moved forward in Germany, whose regulators intend to reserve 100MHz of mid-band spectrum for so-called "local use." Any such move, said the GSMA in a fiercely worded statement issued in late 2018, would drive up spectrum costs and limit the amount of spectrum available for nationwide usage.

Ibbetson's remarks today point to concern that other countries will adopt a similar approach. The possibility of car makers or other types of organization participating in a 5G auction would be an even bigger worry for operators than mere restrictions on the way spectrum is used.

As far-fetched as that might seem, Chinese equipment giant Huawei Technologies has been in talks about developing 5G products it would sell directly to the enterprise market, bypassing the operators it serves through its carrier division. With a "private" 5G network and its own spectrum resources, a company like BMW could theoretically cut the carrier out of the equation and deal directly with an equipment vendor playing a managed services role.

But the vendor options may be limited. While Huawei is eager to sell to enterprise customers, Ericsson has changed its enterprise strategy to avoid upsetting its telco partners. "We are working with service providers and you will see when we provide connectivity to enterprises we do it together with service providers," said Börje Ekholm, Ericsson's CEO, during a press conference this week. "We don't think it is a good idea to compete with customers but much better to find a win-win solution."

The NGMN press conference featured a panel of senior technology executives from some of the world's biggest telcos, including AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone. Most of those operators see 5G as a way of expanding connectivity offerings into the enterprise market.


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Germany's Deutsche Telekom this week announced a partnership with Osram, a German maker of lighting technologies, to develop what it claims is the world's first 5G campus network. Osram could potentially use 5G technology to control robots on the factory floor.

That could make any spectrum restrictions a major concern for the German incumbent, although it has objected to the auction proposals mainly because of rules on coverage obligations and national roaming, allowing new entrants to cover areas where they do not have infrastructure by using the existing operator networks.

Vodafone CEO Nick Read this week took aim at the same rules. "What we don't support is if someone can get spectrum and build a little bit of network in cities and then ride off the rest of the industry on national roaming agreements," he told reporters during a press conference. "It undermines the investment we do."

Ibbetson today warned that reserving frequencies for specific services could hinder technology adoption. "It is important to bring this back to using the same spectrum assets and not fragmenting by having industrial devices somehow requiring different frequency ranges to those components developed for smartphones," he said. "Otherwise we will lose the benefits of trying to scale the technology for those environments."

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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