Could 5G spectrum sharing help close the broadband gap?

27 Feb 2018

Delegates arrive at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona. Image: John Kennedy

Broadband expert group tells Mobile World Congress that more progressive policy is needed.

Lower infrastructure supply costs, including greater sharing of telecoms infrastructure and radio spectrum among operators, will be a key action to close the broadband gap.

That’s one of the findings of a report by an expert group of members of the GSMA Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, which yesterday (26 February) at Mobile World Congress released the report A New Deal: Investing in Our Common Future – Policy Recommendations to Close the Broadband Gap.

‘Things don’t just happen – they are made to happen. This holds true for the broadband gap and how we can close it’

The report should make interesting reading in Ireland as the National Broadband Plan flounders with just one remaining bidder, the Enet-SSE consortium, as Eir and Siro have exited the competition.

Action plan

The report sets out specific actions for policymakers and regulators, including creating a healthy investment climate through better broadband policy planning, stable regulatory conditions and a smart strategy for generating public sector revenue instead of targeted ICT taxes and fees.

It also recommends ensuring that competition is effective, including a fair return for regulated access to dominant operators’ infrastructure.

Notably, in terms of lowering infrastructure costs, it recommends the sharing of telecoms infrastructure and radio spectrum among operators. This includes: easier access to public infrastructure, rights of way and utility-owned fibre; openness to multi-technology approaches; release of more radio spectrum at lower cost; and more flexible spectrum licensing.

The expert group was chaired by Philipp Metzger, director general of the Federal Office of Communications in Switzerland.

“Things don’t just happen – they are made to happen. This holds true for the broadband gap and how we can close it.

“The policy recommendations included in this report are very concrete; they address pressing issues that are hampering the roll-out of digital networks and services to people who desperately need them.

“This report is the result of a truly multi-stakeholder effort by committed experts who, regardless of whether they come from the public or the private sector, have gone out of their way to jointly propose solutions that will bring the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone, everywhere.”

As fibre flounders, will 5G spectrum be part of the answer?

In Ireland, many operators have shared infrastructure in terms of 4G roll-out in recent years.

But when it comes to 5G, operators have taken different approaches. It remains to be seen if 5G infrastructure sharing will be a priority for operators. For example, some operators are focusing on spectrum designed around provinces and cities while Three, for example, has obtained uniform nationwide spectrum.

In May last year, ComReg revealed that five firms – Imagine, Airspan, Vodafone, Three and Eir – had successfully bid for the 3.6GHz spectrum band, which will be crucial for 5G.

The winning bidders agreed to pay in excess of €78m, comprising €60.5m in upfront fees and around €17.7m in spectrum usage fees, which will be paid out over the 15 years – a far cry from the instant €450m demanded for the 4G network spectrum in 2012.

In the 5G spectrum allocations by ComReg, Imagine obtained rights for 60MHz in each of Ireland’s rural provinces, Airspan secured spectrum for 25MHz in rural regions and 60MHz in cities, Vodafone obtained 85MHz in rural regions and 105MHz in cities, Three Ireland secured 100MHz nationally, and Eir obtained 80MHz in rural regions and 85MHz in cities.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years