GSMA calls on governments to identify mmwave spectrum bands for mobile, highlights impact of high spectrum prices
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The GSMA, which represents the interest of the global mobile industry, has sent an open letter to ministers and heads of regulatory authorities in nearly 170 countries to coincide with ITU Telecom World 2019 this week urging them to identify spectrum in the 26, 40 and 66 GHz bands at World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 for mobile.

In the open letter, the GSMA and its board members also assert that “The methodical analysis undertaken by governments and industry through the ITU process has demonstrated that mobile can safely operate in these bands without causing harm to other spectrum-using services,” and that “Over the next 15 years, mmWave 5G will contribute US$565 billion to global GDP, and hundreds of millions more will be connected to voice, data and broadband.”

The GSMA has also published a report that claims that policies that inflate spectrum or delay spectrum assignments are directly linked to negative consumer outcomes, such as slow network rollout, reduced quality of service and poor mobile coverage. The findings, which are based on data harvested between 2010 and 2017 include the following:

  • In developed countries, high spectrum costs played a significant role in slowing the rollout of 4G networks and drove a long-term reduction in 4G network quality;
  • In developing countries, spectrum prices were, on average, almost three times more expensive than in developed countries in relation to expected revenues. In these countries, high spectrum costs slowed down the rollout of both 3G and 4G networks and drove long-term reductions in overall network quality;
  • In the countries studied with the highest spectrum prices, the average mobile operator’s 4G network would cover 7.5 per cent more of the population if they had acquired spectrum at the median spectrum price;
  • The timing of spectrum awards has a significant impact on mobile coverage. For example, if an operator was assigned 4G spectrum at least two years earlier, their 4G network population coverage would on average be 11–16 percentage points higher (all else being equal). The rollout of 3G networks was also significantly delayed in markets that licensed spectrum late, with 3G coverage levels up to 12 per cent lower during the rollout period in those markets; and
  • The amount of spectrum licensed to operators had a significant impact on network quality. Over the period of analysis, an additional 20 MHz of 4G spectrum increased average download speeds by between 1 and 2.5 Mbps (equivalent to an increase of up to 15 per cent).

“Spectrum auctions can’t be viewed as cash cows anymore,” said Brett Tarnutzer, head of spectrum, GSMA. “Any government that prices spectrum to maximise revenue now does so with full knowledge that its actions will have negative repercussions on citizens and the development of mobile services. We now have clear evidence that shows by restricting the financial ability of operators to invest in mobile networks millions of consumers are suffering.”

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