Securing spectrum for 5G rollout amid COVID-19 pandemic is crucial in Asia-Pacific, says GlobalData

2020 was expected to be the year of 5G. With leading carriers across the Asia-Pacific region already launched the fifth generation technology in 2019, the rollout of 5G was ramping up and new 5G-ready devices were in the product pipelines of major manufacturers. However, like many other segments of the economy, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is slowing down 5G implementation to some extent. The availability of spectrum is a constant challenge for mobile network operators, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s report, ‘COVID-19: Securing Spectrum for 5G Rollout Amid the Pandemic’, reveals that mobile operators’ 5G rollout plans are often closely linked to the spectrum availability made by regulators.  Unfortunately, the virus outbreak has led to some regulators putting planned spectrum allocations/auctions on-hold due to health and financial reasons. Meantime, operators are also seeing a significant spike in mobile data services over the last two months.

Siow Meng Soh, Research Director at GlobalData, says: “It is crucial that regulators in the Asia-Pacific region provide greater transparency and visibility into their spectrum planning, allocation timeframe as well as regulatory changes. There are different approaches that regulators can adopt to improve spectrum efficiency. Greater certainty on spectrum availability will enable mobile operators to plan their investment and activities to get new 5G services to the market in a timely manner.”

Some regulators recognize the need to move forward with 5G spectrum allocation. In New Zealand for example, the regulator has decided to direct allocate 5G spectrum in the 3.5GHz band to operators (Dense Air, Spark and 2degrees) without conducting an auction.

Soh adds: “It is still possible for spectrum auctions to be carried out while addressing health concerns. Regulators could set up online auctions or take extra precautions for on-site auctions.”

Hungary for example, had on-site health monitoring during its 5G auction process and enforced social-distancing precautions. In other jurisdictions, regulators undertook temporary relief measures to give mobile operators access to additional spectrum to increase network capacity. In the US for example, the FCC has allowed major operators Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and US Cellular to temporarily borrow spectrum from existing licensees in the 600 MHz and AWS frequency bands (1700 MHz / 2100 MHz) for a 60-day period.

Soh continues: “Besides these temporary relief measures, there are other techniques that can be used to improve spectral efficiency. The Licensed Shared Access (LSA) or shared spectrum approach allows licensees to access underutilized licensed spectrum while protecting incumbent user from harmful interference.  FCC’s authorization of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band is one example. This allows operators to access spectrum that is not used by the incumbent licensees in a particular geographical area to offer 5G services.”

5G is not just 4G with faster speeds. A technology ecosystem is now being developed around 5G to enable many new possibilities. Particularly in the enterprise space, 5G will become an important element of the corporate network that drives innovation, business transformation and productivity.

Soh concludes: “Combining the ultra-low latency characteristic of 5G with network slicing and edge computing, different players are collaborating to develop solutions for a myriad of industry-specific use cases. For example, cloud providers (AWS Wavelength and Microsoft Azure Edge Zone) are partnering with telecom providers to enable cloud developers to build applications by accessing cloud compute and storage services at the edge of the telecom network.

“In February 2020, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, EE, KDDI, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Telefonica, and Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) joined forces, with the support of the GSMA, to develop an interoperable platform that will make edge computing capabilities widely and easily available to developers and software companies that sell to enterprises. In the long-term, 5G and the ecosystem around it will be a major contributor to the economy and facilitate economic recovery post-COVID.”

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