Spectrum aggregation now is among the major new methods mobile operators will use in the 5G and succeeding eras to dramatically boost capacity by orders of magnitude over 4G. Networks will aggregate spectrum within frequency bands, across frequency bands; interwork licensed spectrum with unlicensed; bond spectrum across platforms and on top of shared spectrum allocations (multiple users and licensing methods in one block of spectrum).
In that regard, SK Telecom and Samsung Electronics announced that they have successfully used “Dual Connectivity” technology aggregating spectrum from both 4G and 5G networks.
As a key part of the test, 2.65Gbps data speeds on a 5G smartphone was obtained by aggregating 100 MHz of 3.5GHz capacity with 65 MHz of 4G LTE spectrum at 1.8-GHz, 2.1-GHz, and 2.6-GHz frequencies.
The E-UTRAN New Radio Dual Connectivity capability is based on the 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standard.
Other forms of spectrum aggregation for 4G and 5G also will be used, especially in consumer settings to combine Wi-Fi or other unlicensed spectrum with either 4G or 5G mobile spectrum, in both private (enterprise) settings and public mobile network settings.
It would not be incorrect to argue that, at least in some markets, spectrum sharing, new spectrum allocations and more-intense use of unlicensed spectrum are going to dramatically affect the “scarcity” assumptions that long have driven mobile and fixed network business models.
In many countries there is between 500 MHz and 700 MHz of licensed spectrum available to mobile operators, plus Wi-Fi assets of perhaps another 800 MHz. In the U.S. market, mobile operator spectrum assets might increase by 80 MHz to 100 MHz after the 600-MHz auctions are concluded.
But much spectrum is unused, so methods of sharing licensed spectrum on a dynamic basis will dramatically affect the amount of assets that can be productively employed.
In the U.S. market, where the Federal Communications Commission plans to release 29 GHz of additional spectrum, relative spectrum abundance should replace spectrum scarcity as a fundamental assumption.