Licensed spectrum needed now for 5G launch

Reza Karimi speaking at the European 5G Conference in Brussels (23 January 2019)
31 January 2019

Huawei’s Director of Corporate Strategy, Reza Karimi, addressed the 2019 European 5G conference in Brussels on 23 January, saying it was time regulators made licensed spectrum available for 5G to attract the big investments needed for infrastructure.

We can all agree that there is a need for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to prepare for the deployment of the new wave of 5G communications technologies, but I am not convinced that more unlicensed spectrum is the priority, as some people would suggest. We of course need appropriate amounts of both kinds of spectrum. But right now, timely availability of licensed spectrum should be the priority.

Quality of access

With licensed spectrum, you make a payment to the regulator and in return you get the benefits of guaranteed quality of access to spectrum. With unlicensed spectrum, you get free shared access to spectrum but no guarantees. So they do play different roles, and this is well understood.

The question is whether we need a significant amount of additional unlicensed spectrum for 5G. I’d argue that there is already plenty of unlicensed spectrum available in Europe: 800 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz. In fact, today, we have more unlicensed spectrum than licensed spectrum. And lots more unlicensed spectrum is in the pipeline at 6 GHz and 66 GHz.

So do we need any additional unlicensed spectrum? I’m not sure…

Certainty needed for users

If anything, I’d say that regulators should focus their efforts on making licensed spectrum available for 5G in a timely manner. Licensed spectrum that is defragmented in frequency, defragmented geographically, and will bring certainty to the market for the huge investments needed in large scale 5G infrastructures.

On the issue of certainty, I would also suggest that in Europe we should avoid Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) type frameworks, where there are multiple layers of licensed and unlicensed spectrum at the same frequencies.

These frameworks are over-complicated, and bring uncertainty to both sides, and frankly I think they are unnecessary at this time. Let’s keep unlicensed and licensed spectrum in different frequencies and allow them to provide the greatest certainty possible to their users.

Economies of scale

Licensed spectrum is the foundation of 5G. It brings certainty that the market needs for the huge investments that are needed for large scale 5G infrastructures.

We need to help create such large scale 5G networks for the launch of the new business models and killer apps we haven’t even thought of today, and which will allow economies of scale in equipment. So I would argue that our priority for the launch of 5G should be licensed spectrum.

This will of course be complemented with unlicensed spectrum as a top up, but the foundations are with licensed spectrum. There are large amounts of unlicensed spectrum in the pipeline in Europe, and I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t think there is a need for substantially more unlicensed spectrum for 5G.