The amount of spectrum-related content at MWC Barcelona 2022 was extraordinary.

Within all of this, I had the honour to moderate the Sub-3GHz Evolution Summit on 2 March.

Having been involved in this previously, the support of operators including Telefonica, Globe Telecom, Entel, Maxis and Veon was encouraging. So, too was the role of Huawei in highlighting the technical innovations driving maximum use of sub-3GHz spectrum.

As the myriad spectrum sessions at MWC Barcelona 2022 highlights, there are so many diverse spectrum bands currently being put to use and vying for attention. This makes it doubly important to recognise the critical nature of what might otherwise have been considered traditional bands and the innovation driving their use.

That’s exactly what the Sub-3GHz Evolution Summit did. Operators and ecosystem players came together to underscore the enduring value of these bands, but also note how this value was being enhanced thanks to new network and antenna solutions. And because these bands will continue to support the success of the mobile industry into the future, the why and how of sub-3GHz bands was complemented by recommendations for what would help to maximise their use in the future.

GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair kicked off the summit, putting the need for sub-3GHz spectrum into perspective by noting the progress of the mobile industry and its impressive growth.

He highlighted the steady growth of 5G in terms of connections and the share of these compared with other technology generations; the growth of mobile data traffic, on a regional and per-application basis; and forecast 5 billion VoLTE/Vo5G users by 2025.

In each case, the role of sub-3GHz spectrum was clear, serving as a foundational coverage and capacity layer, particularly against the backdrop of operators looking to migrate all bands to NR in the future.

In large part, Sinclair built his case from GSMA Intelligence data, a nod to the industry’s progress and well-respected forecasts. But, nothing beats hearing directly from the operators deploying 4G and 5G networks. Their livelihood depends on obtaining spectrum and putting it to its best use. Here, Telefonica was very clear in noting the role of FDD bands (sub-3GHz spectrum) as a 5G coverage layer, particularly for IoT, and VoLTE/Vo5G, alongside other use cases.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Telefonica and Maxis hammered home a more fundamental point: operator success depends upon delivering an incredible user experience. This translates into network performance which meets increasing customer data usage and service availability (coverage) where it’s needed. Without access to, and efficient use of sub-3GHz spectrum, the economics get extremely complicated.

Given the importance of sub-3GHz spectrum in meeting mobile broadband demands, it’s only natural to ask how these bands will be put to best use, particularly in light of an all bands to NR vision of many operators at the summit.

As a leading mobile infrastructure supplier, Huawei pointed to a number of strategies it had already deployed for operators, including its RuralLink product for simplified coverage rollout, and multi-band coordination for coverage and experience enhancements. Of course, judging by the MWC GLOMO award win for its FDD Giga Band MIMO Modules, it’s apparent the company has a credible view on the topic. The win, however also captures some of the key sub-3GHz innovations highlighted by operators in the summit.

While operators pointed to dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) as a (now) proven way to migrate spectrum from legacy 2G and 3G to 4G and 5G networks, a bigger focus was on the implementation of antenna innovation. The move from 2T/2R set-ups to 4T/4R and 8T/8R was heralded as being responsible for coverage improvements of more than 40 per cent, user throughput improvements of up to 70 per cent, and 30 per cent site TCO savings when including AAU assets. The move, then to FDD Massive MIMO promises even greater gains, with Telefonica noting a potential five-times capacity gain and four-times experience gain.

To be sure, the power of MIMO has been known for years. Bringing higher-order MIMO to FDD spectrum, however hasn’t been easy, explaining Huawei’s GLOMO award and the operator attention on these innovations.

What else is required?
I mentioned early on that I’d had the honour to be the moderator for MWC Barcelona 2022’s Sub-3GHz Summit. The real honour, however came in hosting a panel discussion during the summit.

Telefonica, Entel Peru and Globe Telecom all took time to answer some tough questions about the spectrum landscape in 2022, including a wish list for the mobile market including regulators and suppliers.

As the market looks to deliver stellar experiences and maximise the use of sub-3GHz resources, their asks telegraph important requirements to be executed on.

  • Lightweight solutions. Particularly where multiband and active antenna solutions are deployed, lower weight is key to keeping site costs in check.
  • Energy efficiency. Sustainability is a top network transformation priority for operators, so it’s only natural they would look for energy efficiency in their radio and antenna systems.
  • Device innovations. Whether it is slicing support or the activation of advanced radio capabilities, devices play a role in driving the efficient use of spectrum.
  • Upper mid-band spectrum. Where operators will need plenty of new spectrum to meet customer demands, upper mid-band will play an important role alongside low-band. Operators at the summit highlighted this, backed up by GSMA Intelligence’s The Socio-Economic Benefits of Mid-Band 5G Services research.
  • Spectrum availability. Efficiency-enhancing technologies mean nothing without access to spectrum. Making spectrum available to operators is, unsurprisingly a top request.
  • Affordable spectrum. Availability only matters if spectrum is affordable, allowing operators the capital to invest in networks. GSMA Intelligence delivered groundbreaking research on the impact of spectrum pricing on consumers more than two years ago and it’s still relevant to operators in 2022.

– 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.