The US Needs to Expand its 5G Spectrum by Licensing Mid-Band Frequencies

According to a new study from Analysys Mason, The U.S. needs to expand its 5G spectrum pipeline and license the lower 3 GHz band for commercial use in order to keep pace with other countries that are moving aggressively to make mid-band spectrum available for next-generation 5G networks.

The study finds that the U.S. has no licensed spectrum today in a key swath of mid-band spectrum from 3.3-3.6 GHz, while other benchmark countries that have made these airwaves available average nearly 200 megahertz. If the U.S. government moved quickly to make the lower 3 GHz band available for commercial 5G operations, the U.S. would become a "leading benchmark" country in this area, according to Analysys Mason.

The FCC is making great progress with the auctions of 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz mid-band spectrum this year. This study shows how crucial it is for the U.S. to replicate that success particularly in the lower 3 GHz range. The Administration and the FCC need to develop a meaningful plan to make at least 250 MHz in the lower 3 GHz band available for commercial use on terms that will allow robust 5G deployments.

Mid-band spectrum is the key to 5G networks because of its blend of capacity and range. A report earlier this year from Analysys Mason showed that the U.S. needs to effectively double its amount of mid-band in order to keep pace with Japan, China, South Korea and other countries.

In the U.S., the lower 3 GHz band is the only near-term opportunity for additional licensed mid-band spectrum. Internationally, lower 3 GHz spectrum is considered a 5G priority because it allows device and network equipment manufacturers to build to globally harmonized, international specifications, reducing network deployment and consumer costs. 

To conduct the study, Analysys Mason looked at the amount of spectrum currently available, as well as the amount being considered for future allocation, in 14 key countries. 

Other key findings of the report include:

  • The U.S. is a global leader in low-band spectrum availability. Other countries are moving aggressively in this range, and commercial access to the 1.3 GHz and 1.7 GHz bands will be an important element of continued U.S. low-band leadership. 
  • The U.S. leads the world in licensed high-band spectrum. However, other countries, such as China, are also looking to make significant amounts of high-band spectrum available for 5G use. 
  • The U.S. has tipped the scales in favor of unlicensed spectrum, making around three times as much spectrum available for unlicensed as for licensed. 

Janette Stewart, a Principal with Analysys Mason and the lead author of the study, stated that with this study, they wanted to take a longer-term look at potential spectrum availability that other countries are considering. The U.S. is in a very strong position on low- and high-band spectrum, but it is clear that mid-band—and the lower 3 GHz range in particular—should remain at the forefront of policymaker efforts.

Click here for the full report.

Click here to see global 5G Frequency Allocations.