The UK telecoms regulator has started a new consultation that seeks feedback on whether radio spectrum bands above 6GHz could be used for the future 5th generation (5G) of ultrafast Mobile Broadband connectivity, which many predict will be able to offer peak / shared performance of up to or beyond 10Gbps (Gigabits per second) by around 2020.
It’s important to note that 5G, not unlike today’s new 4G networks, should also be able to operate in various different low and high frequency radio spectrum bands. Lower frequency bands (e.g. 800MHz) travel further and penetrate better through walls, but their ability to carry lots of data is limited. However, in order to achieve the top performance, it’s likely that higher frequency spectrum, such as 6GHz and above, would be needed.
Admittedly higher frequencies like this offer a significantly shorter range and struggle to penetrate through walls, although a combination of millimeter wave frequency bands and special transmitters might enable the use of higher frequencies over greater distances (we can’t help but wonder how expensive and complex this might be to deploy).
But there’s still a lot of R&D required in order to both prove the above and make it commercially viable. So far most of the demos we’ve seen (examples here and here) tend to have been conducted in the15GHz to 28GHz bands, while other operators have suggested frequency bands of up to 60GHz.
Ofcom’s problem is that most of the available lower frequency bands are already allocated and bands above 6GHz, where there’s a little bit more choice, are similarly used by a wide range of services that benefit citizens, consumers and other sectors (e.g. satellite comms, space / science research, military, fixed wireless broadband backhaul capacity etc.). In other words, Ofcom has a tough job ahead.
The exact nature of 5G is not yet defined, but to lay the foundations for its future introduction Ofcom needs to understand how it might use spectrum.
5G is likely to provide much faster mobile broadband speeds than the current generation of mobile technology and the use of large blocks of spectrum is likely to be important to achieve the fastest speeds. Large blocks of spectrum are difficult to find at lower frequencies therefore higher frequency bands, above 6 GHz for example, are likely to be important.