With the U.S. C-Band public sale on observe to method or surpass $70 billion, the query just isn’t a lot concerning the funding thesis however extra about what this implies for future cellular bands. In spite of everything, international cellular knowledge site visitors has superior roughly 1,000-fold for the reason that 3G smartphone was launched. And though site visitors development charges are slowing, operators want to contemplate the potential of one other 20x of development over the subsequent decade. Increasing the accessible capability will stay important targets for any operator that wishes to stay aggressive.
The higher mid-band together with huge MIMO radios will present a major quantity of incremental capability however doubtless not sufficient to fulfill the capability calls for of the subsequent decade. Preliminary C-Band public sale outcomes are renewing the give attention to what’s subsequent — what’s going to the operators do as soon as they exhaust the incremental capability provided with the higher mid-band?
And there’s no magic. Operators have three primary instruments at their disposal together with leveraging extra environment friendly applied sciences, deploying extra cells, and utilizing extra spectrum.
So along with rising the reliance on small cells, operators will, from a licensed spectrum perspective, have three high-level choices as soon as the higher mid-band has been exhausted to ship the subsequent most economical and sizeable capability enhance, together with FDD huge MIMO, millimeter wave (mmWave), and 6425 MHz to 7025 MHz (modifications to the CBRS energy limits may additionally make the CBRS spectrum a extra viable capability possibility for U.S. operators).
Whereas it’s no secret that FDD-based huge MIMO has not gained the identical mass market acceptance as TDD-based huge MIMO, partly due to technical challenges with the FDD spectrum and sensible limitations because of the required antenna dimension with typical FDD frequencies, operators and suppliers seem like warming as much as the thought that there’s a function for FDD-based Massive MIMO options in future roadmaps.
mmWave investments are rising quickly with whole shipments on observe to surpass 0.1 M units in 2021. However the baseline remains to be small relative to the sub-6 GHz put in base, and operators usually are not planning to make use of this know-how for broader city-wide protection any time quickly just because the associated fee per GB economics relative to the higher mid-band sub-6 GHz spectrum just isn’t compelling at this juncture.
Regardless of bettering market sentiment for each FDD-based huge MIMO and mmWave applied sciences, the broader enterprise case just isn’t assured. Consequently, the curiosity with the 5.925-7.125 GHz spectrum is rising. The FCC has made the choice to make all the 1200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz accessible for unlicensed use, nevertheless, different nations/areas and the GSMA are contemplating a extra balanced method between the unlicensed and licensed spectrum allocating probably as much as half or 600 MHz for licensed use.
Whereas the upper working frequencies will undoubtedly problem the hyperlink budgets, there’s rising optimism that macro based mostly EIRP energy ranges mixed with additional huge MIMO and beam forming developments will decrease the variety of incremental websites required to understand equal city-wide protection relative to the higher mid-band and in the end grow to be a compelling possibility within the general capability toolkit.
Extra nations will make their choices about their 6 GHz plans in 2021. It’s not trivial. On the one hand, Wi-Fi is a serious success story and stays the de-facto connectivity know-how for enterprises and shoppers not only for the MBB use case but additionally for IoT utilization situations. And the unlicensed spectrum is more and more congested. However, we’re nonetheless within the early days of 5G and whereas it stays unclear precisely how a lot of the 5G imaginative and prescient will probably be realized over the subsequent decade, there are few indicators that mobile knowledge site visitors development will sluggish sufficient to obviate the necessity for extra precious spectrum. NR-U is an possibility however there’s a purpose operators imagine the C-Band spectrum is 15x to 20x extra precious than the CBRS spectrum – there isn’t a magic across the EIRP delta.
In different phrases, all eyes are on the C-Band public sale for now. Nevertheless it gained’t be lengthy earlier than operators might want to return to the shed and open up the toolbox.
Stefan Pongratz is a vp on the Dell’Oro Group. He joined Dell’Oro in 2010 after spending 10 years with the Anritsu Firm. Pongratz is accountable for the agency’s Radio Entry Community and Telecom Capex applications and has authored superior analysis experiences on the wi-fi market assessing the influence and the market alternative with small cells, C-RAN, 5G, IoT and CBRS.
“Business Voices” are opinion columns written by exterior contributors—usually business specialists or analysts—who’re invited to the dialog by FierceWireless employees. They don’t signify the opinions of the editorial board.