Telecoms lobby demands access to high-band spectrum for 5G


The global telecoms industry on Tuesday demanded access to the high-capacity spectrum it says it needs to support data-intensive 5G services, accusing the space lobby of hogging frequencies in a way that could stunt the technology.

The call by the GSMA, which represents 750 operators and another 350 firms in the mobile industry ranging from Germany’s Deutsche Telekom to China’s Huawei, global leader in telecoms networks, comes ahead of a standards-setting conference that will decide who gets to use the so-called millimeter wave frequencies.

Such high-band spectrum, with frequencies of 26 Gigahertz and up, has the greatest capacity to transfer data – faster even than the mid-range spectrum already being used in some countries that can download a Hollywood movie to a smartphone in seconds.

Yet gaining full access to the spectrum could be hampered by satellite operators who want to keep a wide margin of unused bandwidth to ensure that 5G does not interfere with critical services such as weather forecasting.

“We’re heading for a confrontation here,” Brett Tarnutzer, the GSMA’s head of spectrum, said in an interview, urging flexibility on the part of the commercial space industry, U.S. space agency NASA and its European counterpart ESA.

The GSMA’s call comes ahead of the World Radiocommunications Conference in Egypt, a month-long gathering starting on Oct. 28 where the 190 member nations of a United Nations telecoms forum will thrash out policy on high-band spectrum.

The GSMA is cranking up its lobbying operation early to counter concerns – aired by the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -that 5G services may interfere with sensors used in weather and climate forecasting.

Officials from NASA and NOAA have testified at U.S. congressional hearings that 5G interference could make it harder for weather forecasters to predict the path a hurricane will take, thus putting lives at risk.

Tarnutzer dismissed those arguments as misinformation and said they threaten to delay the benefits of 5G that would also accrue to developing nations by, for example, making it possible to run ports and shipping more efficiently.

In all, the GSMA estimates the economic benefits of 5G for the global economy at $565 billion through 2034, equivalent to 2.9% of estimated growth until then.

The GSMA’s appeal to emerging nations seeks to build a coalition to back its cause. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN telecoms forum, works on a principle of one country, one vote.

“So often we think about 5G as a very first-world technology, but we have found that it is going to have major potential globally,” said Tarnutzer.