Australia facing 'urgency' on 5G spectrum bands: AMTA

The allocation of millimetre-wave spectrum bands for 5G applications is an 'urgent' need in Australia, according to AMTA, which said the nation must keep up with the international community.

There is an "urgency" around setting aside 5G spectrum as it will be crucial in keeping up with an international community that is forging ahead with trials and pre-standardisation across the millimetre-wave (mmWave) band, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has said.

AMTA CEO Chris Althaus -- who was responsible for setting up Australia's industry 5G Group -- said the nation must keep pace by having its regulatory settings match the technology evolution.

"We see a lot of aspects already standardised in 2018, pre-standard activities are under way, and there's an urgency around this whole equation," Althaus said during the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) Spectrum tune-up: Spectrum for 5G broadband in mmWave bands event on Tuesday.

"We're getting a lot of interest by end users and customers outside the sector; we need to be in a position as a nation to take early advantage of this.

"We are already a leading global nation in mobile terms, and there is some enormous productivity and competitiveness implications if we take this journey in a planned way, but a very deliberate way, to keep up."

According to Althaus, industry is going to be relying on mmWave spectrum -- which refers to bands above 24.25GHz -- to do a lot of "heavy lifting" in terms of the data it will be required to move, as well as enabling new mobile technologies such as network slicing, Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO), HetNets, and beam forming.

"[5G is] relevant for virtually every industry," Althaus added.

AMTA engineer Juan Pablo Casetta said the regulatory development could be helped along by the Australian government through both domestic and international processes.

"We've got two separate processes here through which the Australian government and industry can aid the development of a regulatory environment that's amenable to the future of 5G millimetre-wave services," he said during the ACMA event.

"First is an international process supporting regulatory provisions, and encourage the development of 5G technology in key spectrum bands; and secondly, there's the domestic process in which spectrum policy and licensing frameworks support 5G millimetre-wave deployments in Australia."

The two processes must be separated or "decoupled", however, so that Australian support internationally for the band is not held back by it only being at a monitoring stage locally, AMTA said, as it pushed the ACMA to progress mmWave beyond initial investigation.

"AMTA wants to see the progression to the initial investigation stage now; obviously, we can't wait until WRC [World Radio Conference] '19, because by that stage ... the technology will likely be ready," he argued, saying that the government would then be rushing to allocate spectrum.

"This needs to progress now."

According to Casetta, the 24-27GHz and 37-43GHz mmWave spectrum bands are seeing a lot of international interest, with the 66-76GHz band also seeing a high level of trial activity worldwide.

"From an Australian perspective, what we're looking to do is maximise spectrum options for future 5G millimetre-wave networks as and when required ... support and encourage the development of device ecosystems at the higher end of the spectrum estimates," he explained.

"So we're talking about roughly 10GHz below 50GHz and 10GHz above, and then that translates to minimum notification targets of the 25GHz range, 37 to 43.5GHz, and 66 to 76GHz."

Daniel Mah, senior legal and regulatory counsel for SES Satellites, expressed "dismay" at some of the mmWave bands being considered, as many of the current high-throughput satellites make use of mmWave spectrum -- including the two National Broadband Network (NBN) satellites, which utilise the ka-band on 28GHz spectrum.

Instead of looking into the 28GHz band, in which satellite is "very heavily deployed" and is being avoided by the international community, or into the 37-52GHz band, for which nothing is yet deployed but some satellite companies have announced plans to launch in future, Mah said the ACMA should consider 26GHz, 32GHz, 66GHz, and 81GHz, as there is limited existing and planned usage by satellites across them, and they will be suitable for high-density indoor and outdoor 5G deployment scenarios.

According to Mah, satellite's potential role in 5G deployments also means it should not be shifted off the mmWave bands, because it can "play a role in helping mobile networks achieve latency of sub-1 millisecond".

"These frequency bands are very important to us," he added.

"It's not enough to just think of us as an incumbent that needs to be accommodated somewhere, or relocated somewhere, but to think actively and hard about how we fit and how we play a role in the 5G future."

Achieving such low latency will rely on satellite-utilising small cells for densification, with Mah pointing out that fibre and microwave backhaul cannot reach everywhere due to economic feasibility concerns.

"Satellite's ability to extend terrestrial networks is really essential for an inclusive digital society," he argued.

"There's a real risk if you just focus on terrestrial technologies that you end up having 5G and 4G, especially on mmWave bands, being something that simply provides broadband to those who already have it. In many parts of the world today, satellite helps extend these networks beyond their urban cores."

For its own part, the ACMA flagged that it is considering accelerating the process of examining mmWave bands to move onto the next part of the process.

The ACMA said it would consider feedback received during and following the tune-up, pointing out that it will be under "some pressure" after WRC19, as Europe has said 26GHz is a priority for 5G.

Telcos are already looking to use mmWave spectrum for 5G, with Telstra in February announcing a series of 5G new radio (NR) trials across Australia with Ericsson and Qualcomm.

The trials will have them make use of mmWave spectrum technologies at higher-frequency bands to increase network capacity and allow for multi-gigabit speeds across the 28GHz, 39GHz, and sub-6GHz spectrum bands, as well as MIMO antenna technology along with beam forming and beam tracking.

Tech giants Ericsson and IBM earlier this year also announced a "research breakthrough" in 5G network technology, saying a new silicon-based mmWave phased array integrated circuit could accelerate 5G uptake.

As part of their two-year collaboration on 5G, Ericsson and IBM developed an integrated circuit with a phased array antenna module that operates on the 28GHz spectrum band to be used in 5G base stations.

According to Ericsson and IBM, mmWave bands -- portions of the electromagnetic spectrum -- allow for speeds that are more than 10 times faster than the frequencies used currently for mobile devices.

Also working on 5G mmWave products and solutions under the assumption that they will be deployed globally are Intel, Samsung, Huawei, Qualcomm, ZTE, and Nokia.

The ACMA had said it was considering the use of mmWave bands for 5G when it released its five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO) and 12-month work plan in October last year.

"Enabling the next phase of mobile network development is likely to require the ACMA's attention in a number of areas," the FYSO said.

"From a spectrum perspective, 5G appears certain to use (though not exclusively) large contiguous bandwidths (hundreds of MHz or more) in millimetre-wave bands."

The ACMA is also looking into use of the 3.6GHz spectrum band for 5G, in July hosting an event where mobile carriers Telstra and Vodafone Australia found themselves at odds with incumbent users including satellite operators and wireless ISPs.

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