With the advent and popularity of the smartphone, mobile data usage has been steadily increasing year over year along a steep trend line that is expected to continue. Technology continues to advance to improve spectrum efficiency, but more spectrum will be needed to meet the mobile data demand. Licensed spectrum has been used by operators as the raw material to deliver wireless data for mobile and nomadic use cases.
Incumbents who do not utilize their spectrum very often, in both the temporal or geographical domain, create an opportunity for a shared spectrum allocation in which mobile services can utilize the spectrum when the incumbent is not operating. However, licensed spectrum has fueled the smartphone revolution. So, it is important to continue to provide enough spectrum runway so that mobile data network supply can continue to meet mobile network demand. Allocation of licensed, shared, and unlicensed spectrum is necessary for the success of 5G. However, the focus of this paper is on licensed spectrum. Allocation of spectrum under one regulatory approach is not a substitute for the other. Future spectrum should be allocated and deployed in areas where it can provide the most benefit to wireless consumers.
Exponential growth in mobile data demand in conjunction with the spectrum needs of upcoming bandwidth intensive applications envisioned for 5G necessitate the availability of new licensed spectrum pools. This paper reviews the potential spectrum resources in the U.S. below 6 GHz as well as above 6 GHz. In particular, the recent NTIA announcement about 3.45-3.55 GHz spectrum, and the FCC Mid-Band Notice of Inquiry (NOI) about the 6-24 GHz range, are discussed as important spectrum resources that need additional attention. One key characteristic of these potential 5G spectrum resources is that they are mainly in occupied bands and require clearing and/or development of sharing mechanisms.
Noting that spectrum identification and allocations take considerable time before the spectrum can be deployed and to meet current and future traffic demands, regulators and government agencies will need to take immediate actions in making sure that a sufficient amount of licensed spectrum is available for 5G deployments, in the appropriate timeframe. Contained in this paper are recommended actions for the U.S. to facilitate the deployment and success of 5G technology and the services it will enable. As discussed in the paper, it is highly desirable to have globally-harmonized licensed spectrum allocations for 5G applications.