Earlier in the year, I penned a blog on the importance of sub-3GHz spectrum to the mobile industry. It was based on an MWC Barcelona 2022 summit I chaired and this would normally be the time when I tell you to go back and check it out or re-read it.

Instead, I’ll simply note GSMA Intelligence got involved in the summit because of our deep focus on spectrum industry dynamics and direct you to check out our latest Spectrum Navigator quarterly update, which builds off all the data we’re seeing. It’s behind a paywall, but I’m happy to get you a copy even if you’re not a customer.

Flash forward to late April and sub-3GHz spectrum dynamics were a major topic at Huawei’s annual Analyst Summit, providing a good opportunity to review the space and look for any new insights.

Sub-3GHz: Where are we and why?
Before we delve into the insights from Huawei’s Analyst Summit, it’s worth revisiting our blog post from earlier in the year. It provides a succinct state-of-the-market view, looking at the key questions of why we need sub-3GHz spectrum, how we can make the best use of it, and what the industry needs to make the best use of it.

  • Why. Given propagation characteristics, it’s important to recognise the role sub-3GHz (generally FDD) bands play in coverage along with the critical nature of coverage to driving use cases such as IoT and VoLTE/VoNR. More fundamentally, faced with increasing data demands and the increasing importance of mobile broadband to the way we work and live, it’s fair to state that we will need to put all spectrum bands to use and transition them to efficient technology generations (4G/5G) over time.
  • How. As I just highlighted, one part of making the most efficient use of sub-3GHz bands is the evolution to 4G and 5G. What we heard from operators at the MWC summit, however, was that this is only one part of the equation. Any upgrades need to be simple to deploy and ready to address the fragmented nature of sub-3GHz bands. This means lightweight as well as multi-band. Just as important, MIMO innovations, which are driving improved capacity and coverage, are critical for user experience along with TCO improvements.
  • What else. There’s no doubt spectrum-related infrastructure innovation, device innovation and market dynamics will be continually evolving. To that end, our summit finished with operators detailing their wish lists, which ranged from a focus on energy efficiency and device-side, to availability, affordability and flexibility in terms of regulated spectrum use.

What did we learn from Huawei?
For telecoms and technology analysts, Huawei’s Analyst Summit has been an annual tradition, expanding over the years in line with the vendor’s market position and portfolio growth. It’s been virtual since the start of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, but no less comprehensive, and (thankfully) spread over enough days to allow for paying attention while still attending to other work demands.

During MWC, Huawei was an active participant in the sub-3GHz summit we blogged about. Given the GLOMO award it won for its FDD Giga Band MIMO Modules, its interest in the space isn’t surprising. But it had more to share, and its Analyst Summit provided an opportunity with a session dedicated to the topic.

To be fair, some of the basic messages from this session repeated what we’d heard earlier in the year; that FDD bands, for example, are key for supporting increasingly demanding coverage requirements and operators will need to migrate all bands to support 4G and 5G to meet traffic requirements going forward. This move to 4G and 5G, Huawei elaborated, is also important for meeting carbon reduction goals given their efficiency over 2G and 3G networks. Beyond the move to 4G or 5G, the vendor stressed that when dealing with multi-channel, multi-RAT and multi-band radio units, hardware and software innovation alongside intelligent radio management are the best way to improve energy efficiency versus purely increasing power levels. And, where handset availability is often a gating factor on the rollout of new technologies, Huawei highlighted the sub-3GHz device ecosystem was robust in terms of both feature support and affordability.

Of course, no analyst event is complete without some bragging and product updates. For Huawei, this meant claims of being first to market with tri-band 4T4R and dual-band 8T8R solutions for FDD spectrum along with the only scaled FDD Massive MIMO solution. It also meant talking about new higher power solutions including 4x160W radios, 8x60W radios, and a 320W massive MIMO AAU coming in at a scant 47kg. I mean, I’m not bragging, but I think I could even lug that around.

Ultimately, few of the messages from Huawei’s sub-3GHz Analyst Summit session were novel. We know that operators will need to (eventually) migrate 2G and 3G services to 4G and 5G and that regulators will need to support them, all in order to support data and energy efficiency demands. We know investing in networks is investing in spectrum. We all know that antenna innovations are key to making the best use of all spectrum, sub-3GHz or otherwise. And, we all know that vendors will continue rolling out new innovations to meet customer requirements and woo new customers.

What the session did do, however, was provide an important reminder.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in new market dynamics. In the spectrum world, this might mean 3.5GHz, mmWave, or even national and ecosystem decisions around 6GHz IMT. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the value of bands which have been put to use for years and will be critical going forward. This requires infrastructure innovation, sure. But also device, siting and regulatory attention.

Regardless of any messages being repetitive, Huawei signalled it is focused on all of these areas in terms of sub-3GHz spectrum.

To be sure, this might not seem as exciting as 6G, 5G-Advanced, edge compute, slicing or many of the other things Huawei wanted to talk about at its Analyst Summit. That makes the sub-3GHz message all the more noteworthy. Getting lost in the shuffle of everything that’s new would be easy to understand, but a disaster for operators.

– Peter Jarich – head, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.