Like it or not, mmWave spectrum is key to 5G success

In the context of network capacity as a function of demand, mmWave has a clear role to play

As 5G has gone from R&D and executive talk tracks to lab testing and standardization to field deployment and commercialization and onto further scale, technological enhancement and network optimization, the value proposition–particularly with regard to the role of mmWave spectrum—has similarly evolved. If your vision of 5G is about multi-Gbps downlink speeds, the role mmWave has to play is obvious; if your vision of 5G is something around the notion of ubiquity, mmWave has very clear limitations both in terms of propagation characteristics and the economics of densification.

But if you take something of a middle path, where 5G is both widely available and, in some particular contexts, offering speeds so fast there’s not currently a clear application for them, you get much closer to where we stand today. To say that another way, mmWave has a very important role to play in 5G but it’s certainly not synonymous with 5G. Rather the latest generation of cellular, in its best and most functional form, is a mix of low-, mid-and high-band frequencies that collectively yield an advantageous mix of speed and coverage. There is, however, a bigger picture.

If you don’t buy any of the closer-in mmWave selling points, perhaps you’ll find compelling the sheer disparity between projected demand for mobile data and the inability of currently deployed spectrum bands to support future usage. Looking to the end of the decade, GSMA’s Head of Spectrum Luciana Camargos, writing in a recent blog, points out that mmWave is indeed vital “in delivering the growth that consumer, enterprise and household data will demand leading to 2030.” Approximately eight years from now, “An average of 5 [Gigahertz] of mmWave spectrum per market will be needed” to support enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless access and enterprise-specific consumption. “To deliver on this, bands such as 26 GHz, 28 GHz, and 40 GHz are needed,” she concludes.

In a detailed analysis, Vision 2030: mmWave Spectrum Needs,” GSMA Intelligence researchers look at the key role mmWave will play in supporting primary 5G use cases both consumer- and enterprise-facing. The consensus is that regulators need to deliver “successful and effective mmWave spectrum assignments…to ensure 5G achieves its true potential in terms of performance and socio-economic impact. Any spectrum capacity constraints should be addressed early by licensing adequate mmWave spectrum for IMT services.” The why of it all, again, gets back to simple demand and supply. “As mobile data traffic continues to grow rapidly…mmWave spectrum will play a key role in guaranteeing 5G network capacity, as it can accommodate more capacity and bandwidth than other band.”

NI has reached the same conclusion in analysis conducted with Joe Madden’s firm Mobile Experts. NI’s Chen Chang, senior director of strategic business development, points out that capacity demand has continued to go up and, with the introduction of mmWave in recent years, “capacity of the network has really increased” based on modeling of consumption and spectrum deployments in New York City and other major global metros. “Basically now there’s more capacity in the network [that] can service more customers over the same geographic areas. That same trend is actually…expected to grow. We’re definitely anticipating in the next 10 years and beyond additional bandwidth needs to be opened up in order to sustain the user throughput and the demand from the customer.”