SPECTRUM – THE INVISIBLE ENTITY WE CAN’T DO WITHOUT

By Stuart Cooke Staff Engineer, SRUK

How 5G & 6G Spectrum impacts technology, business and politics

Raging Martians Invade Venus Using X-ray Guns!
Don’t panic – it’s just a popular student mnemonic to remember the waves of the electromagnetic spectrum (Radiowaves, Microwaves, Infrared radiation, Visible light, Ultraviolet light, X-rays, Gamma rays) But, since high school, how many of us, even in the tech industries, have given it a thought?
And yet, spectrum is the invisible natural resource upon which all wireless communications depend. You can’t see, hear or touch spectrum but, without it, mobile phone, televisions, car radios, laptops, connected refrigerators, smart watches, smart factories, etc. just would not exist!

As Samsung’s Director of Regulatory & Industry Affairs, it’s my job to manage and advocate for spectrum every day. Spectrum does not recognise country borders and so governments and regulators from around the world work together to maximise and harmonise the use of this resource. Nor does invisible mean unprofitable. Many governments auction licenses for the spectrum, with an auction in the USA currently raising over $80B.

However, this resource is also finite and, given that it is already heavily used by a variety of systems such as emergency services, broadcasters, satellites, mobile phone operators, military, then, to enable new technologies, such as 5G, requires long term planning. To displace existing spectrum users or re-plan regulations to allow 5G to share the spectrum with other systems, requires politics, business and technology to come together.

Spectrum – industry collaboration

Companies compete in the market place but we collaborate in spectrum regulatory matters. For long term spectrum planning it is in the shared business interests of technology companies, mobile operators and regulators to cooperate as closely as possible. Companies have ‘spectrum teams’ and I am proud to be part of Samsung’s global spectrum team along with other Samsung colleagues from Brazil, China, India, Korea, UK/Europe and the USA.

In this spirit of collaboration there are a number of industry associations that advocate for 4G and 5G spectrum and friendly regulations. The operators led organisation is called the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) and the manufacturers led organisation the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association). I am fortunate to lead the GSA’s global spectrum team consisting of spectrum team representatives from companies including Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and ZTE. Samsung is supportive of me in this role as one way to demonstrate our commitment to global collaboration and also our desire to help lead the effort to identify spectrum for 5G and get it licensed into the market.

Representing the GSA advocating for 5G spectrum

Of course, collaboration relies on contact. Because of travel limitations most meetings are now online, with video conferencing. My family ask what I’m doing today and I can say ‘I’m going to India which is one of important markets of Samsung, ’ before heading to my home office. One of the photos shows me in India representing GSA and Samsung, advocating that spectrum in India is licenced for 5G from low, mid and high bands, as soon as possible.

In the last few months I have been able to collaborate with industry colleagues and governments in Milan, Delhi, London, Brussels, Seoul, Shanghai, Auckland, Riyadh, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Mexico City – positively contributing to the progress of 5G - and still get home in time for dinner!

Spectrum – long term planning

A new ‘G’ such as 3G, 4G, 5G and, in the future, ‘6G’ usually takes around 10 years of regulatory work before the spectrum can be made available for its use. At the global level this involves the UN based organisation, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which has a legally binding international treaty, called the Radio Regulations; this is constantly reviewed and updated once every four years at the WRC (World Radio Conference). The last WRC took place in 2019 in Egypt. One of its main agenda items was identifying 5G mmWave spectrum. This was a really tough negotiation as the satellite industry were worried that 5G would interfere with their in-band and adjacent band satellite systems. After many discussions, often acrimonious and heated, a good compromise was reached, which means terrestrial 5G and satellites can coexist and share the mmWave spectrum. Around 8 years of preparatory activities went towards the WRC-19 and now that it has successfully completed, many regulators are in the process of licensing spectrum for 5G – from low, mid and high bands.

Spectrum – low, mid and high bands

Spectrum from low, mid and high bands needed to enable full 5G

Source : GSA

As a finite resource, spectrum is crowded and the higher the frequency the greater the bandwidth but the lower the range. Consequently, spectrum from all three ranges is needed to enable the full 5G vision to be realised in real terms. Driving a car in the countryside requires low band, being outside in a city requires mid band and being in a crowded area or a busy sports stadium requires high band.

Discussions within the industry and regulators are now beginning to focus on the longer term and what spectrum may be needed to support the future growth of 5G from the middle of this decade onwards.

Source : GSA

Spectrum – 6G

Given the long term nature of getting spectrum into use in the market, discussions have already commenced on ‘6G’ – what might it be, how far can we push the boundaries of technology as we pencil in around 2030 for initial deployments? How does this vision translate into spectrum? How much spectrum? Should we also look at higher frequencies in the so-called Terahertz (THz) range to enable massive data rates?

These are all questions that Samsung and the wider industry will consider over the coming decade as we continue to lead the debate and strive to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible.

Invisible though spectrum may be. Yet both intrinsic and indispensable to our future. The spectrum team at Samsung, along with Samsung’s world class research colleagues as well as our other industry colleagues, look forward to bringing 6G spectrum into the market for the benefit of people, things and our planet.