The first steps have been taken on the road to 5G commercialisation as Ofcom has completed the first stage of the 5G auction process around the 3.4GHz band. This is the mid-band for 5G services that will use spectrum at 700MHz and 26GHz as well. Auctions of the 700MHz and 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz bands are expected to take place in 2020. So, who are the winners in this round?
Of the four main UK operators the allocations to O2, Vodafone and EE were about equal but, the big surprise was Three that only achieved half the spectrum allocation of the others. Here’s the detail:
Why is this important? Well, cell sizes in the 3.4GHz band can be many kilometres in diameter but, crucially can be just a few hundred metres and deliver Gbit data rates. This paves the way for creating small cell, ultra dense networks, a key enabling technology for 5G, and is pathway to 10Gbit data rates that will be possible when 26GHz spectrum (the so called mmwave band) is released
These small cells will be pivotal to delivering high quality services in areas of high population density. These cells are tiny compared to conventional cell masts and operate at much lower power levels so, they can be deployed on existing street furniture. The prime candidates for siting such cells are lampposts, as they already have power and offer useful elevation. The range of these cells will be short, maybe only 100 metres, so again lamppost spacing in most cases is ideal. The size of these cells means that the number of people in each cell is much smaller, which helps to maintain high throughput and small cells will also be able to take advantage of “spatial reuse”. So what’s that?
Spatial reuse is a technique that creates a beam (so called bean forming) that directs the radio signal to a particular device rather than a blanket cell that covers many devices. Because these beams are very focussed it creates a situation where many beams can use the same spectrum, this is “spatial reuse”. It enables much more efficient use of spectrum with the same spectrum being used many times over
The next few years will see a transformation in communication, as 5G rolls out, it will change our world like never before. It will provide anytime, anywhere communication that will unlock new applications that are just not possible today; we just have to use our imagination. These spectrum auctions represent a significant milestone on the 5G roadmap and In the coming years we will see the emergence of new applications that operate in the 3.4GHz band but, this is only the beginning. On the journey that is 5G and ubiquitous connectivity we are only at the first step