Where US and China stand in deploying the ‘goldilocks of 5G spectrum’
North America continues to have a hole in its mid-band 5G spectrum coverage
LitePoint’s Director of Product Marketing Adam Smith and VIAVI Solutions’ Director of Marketing Kashif Hussain agree that mid-band spectrum, the 2.5 to less than sub-6 GHz space, is the spectrum sweet spot and that making effective use of it is critical to successfully deploying and scaling 5G.
“Spectrum is the number one thing that differentiates 5G rollout from country to country,” Smith stated. “There are some countries that have been very aggressive at opening spectrum for 5G.”
He also explained that 5G, conceptually and literally, is a bit more challenging than previous generations of cellular technology because while it is simply referred to as “5G,” there are actually three discrete deployments.
“There is low-band spectrum, mid-band spectrum and millimeter wave/high-band spectrum,” he elaborated. “The goldilocks of them is the mid-band.”
What makes mid-band the “goldilocks” of spectrum, is that while you can only get the speed with the high- band and only the coverage with the low-band, the mid-band is almost like a combination of the two.
In other words, you get much better coverage than the mmWave, while also getting enough allocated spectrum to achieve some of the speeds promised by 5G.
Hussain agreed with this assessment, referring to mid-band as the ideal band.
“In general, that’s where you want to see a lot of deployment because there’s large chunks of the spectrum available and at the same time, the coverage is relatively decent,” said Hussain. “The coverage is not as good as the 600 MHz, but it’s not as poor as 28 GHz and mmWave.”
North America, which has made great use of both low- and high- band, continues to have a hole in its mid-band coverage, while in China, securing mid-band for or 5G has been a priority.
And according to Smith, mid-band deployments in China should ramp up rapidly in 2020.
Further, while it is true that in 2019, 5G became a commercial reality for all four of the major U.S. carriers, Hussain and Smith both pointed to critical areas in which North America is lacking, especially when compared to its closest rival.
In China, explained Hussain, there is more going on in the areas of network convergence, network slicing and network virtualization.
Smith added that, unlike a lot of other countries, the U.S. included, China has made the decision to deploy standalone 5G “right out of the shoot.”
“For other areas around the world,” Smith offered, “the thought is around protecting investments in 4G, and non-stand- alone is a simpler way of doing that. There are pros and cons to both. I can see it being less expensive to deploy the non-standalone first, and that it would be easier to get to market quicker. But that being said,” he continued, “a lot of the fancy features we talk about with 5G, like low latency and so on, will not be achievable with a non-standalone network.”
The motivation behind China’s decision to include standalone as part of its initial deployment may be due to the advantage of building out a native 5G network from the ground up, rather than spending the time to evolve a 4G network into a 5G one.
However, from Hussain’s perspective, North America is still in the lead due to the different “flavors of 5G” and the varying and innovative technologies being deployed in the country is a testament to that lead.
Further, with the U.S. CBRS auction slotted to take place in June of 2020, as well as plans to make spectrum available in the 3100 to 3550 MHz and the C-Band in 3700 to 4200 MHz blocks on the horizon, North America is preparing for a strong next few years of 5G development.
In summary, Smith stated, “North America has some great technology, but from a readiness to deploy and scale, I think China is probably ahead. Deploying infrastructure in the spectrum that makes sense for 5G is probably something that China has done better than the U.S.”
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