Spectrum Uncertainty Hinders 5G Research

The lack of clarity about the spectrum that operators will be able to use with a key 5G technology appears to be impeding research efforts, judging by comments made by the director of the UK's 5G Innovation Center (5GIC), which had its official opening at the University of Surrey earlier today.

Professor Rahim Tafazolli said that industry groups and telecom players cannot invest heavily in research into "millimeter wave" radio technology until the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has made a decision on which spectrum bands will be set aside for it.

That is not expected to happen until the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2019, when regulators and industry representatives will review the use of radio spectrum globally.

The 5GIC at the University of Surrey

"We do have some activities in this area and are finishing channel measurements, but you do not want to invest a lot of resources in different bands, and it would be good to know what to focus on," he told reporters gathered for the opening of the 5GIC.

"It looks as though the candidate bands will be between 40GHz and 60GHz and we will mobilize resources when we have more certainty," Tafazolli added. "The majority of our work now is applicable to frequencies below 6GHz."

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One of several technologies that fall under the 5G umbrella, millimeter wave -- or mmWave as it's sometimes known -- relies on spectrum in much higher bands than operators use with today's crop of mobile services. That means it can support wider channels and higher bit rates than other technologies, making it especially suitable for bandwidth-hungry applications like Ultra HD streaming. (See SK Telecom, Vendors Big Up Millimeter Wave for 5G.) and Helping Millimeter Wave Achieve Its Potential.)

But spectrum uncertainties mean that initial deployments of 5G are widely expected to focus on sub-6GHz bands. "We'll probably have two major releases of 5G -- the first in sub-6GHz and then another in higher spectrum bands at a slightly later date," said Professor Andy Sutton, the principal network architect for mobile operator EE , at the 5GIC event.

Like others in the industry, Tafazolli believes the first version of 5G will be deployed in 2020 before millimeter bands come into use a few years later.

"A best 'guestimate' at this stage is that it could be 2025 before millimeter wave is commercially launched as part of 5G," says Gabriel Brown, a senior analyst with Heavy Reading.

Asian technology giant Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), which is also involved with the 5GIC, appears to share the concerns about mmWave spectrum. "There are issues with frequency allocation," said a UK-based spokesperson for the company. "[UK regulatory body] Ofcom is working on this but we are still a long way off identifying the frequency band that 5G will use."

That has not, however, prevented Samsung from carrying out some research into mmWave at its facilities in South Korea. The company now intends to share its channel measurement results with the 5GIC "to make sure our work around 30GHz is reflected in future work here," in the words of Samsung's spokesperson.

"Hopefully we can bring some products into the live testbed in Surrey," he said.

Next page: 5G testbed

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