In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum, Spectrum Futures Conference

Seven or eight years ago, as we began work on what became PTC’s Spectrum Futures conference series, some might have thought spectrum sharing was interesting, but a niche for TV white spaces and maybe some enterprise or content provider private network applications, but not something mainstream mobile service providers would use. Verizon just validated the premise that spectrum sharing is a mainstream tool for tier-one mobile operators. 

Some have criticized both AT&T and Verizon for relying on millimeter spectrum to support early 5G launches. Ignore for the moment the fact that very little sub-3 GHz spectrum exists in the U.S. market to support high-bandwidth 5G use cases. Some have claimed Verizon and AT&T “got it wrong” in choosing millimeter wave spectrum. With all due respect, such critics maybe underestimate executives at those companies for understanding the economics of coverage and capacity, and what their options are to support both.

“One of the most important features that I have talked about is of course the dynamic spectrum sharing that will come during next year, where you basically also can use, deploy wherever you are with 5G and then you don’t need to allocate certain spectrum to certain technology,” said Hans Vestberg, Verizon CEO.  In other words, Verizon understands full well that millimeter wave is best for capacity reinforcement in urban areas.  Where coverage is required, it has other tools. 

There are a growing number of ways to increase effective bandwidth beyond buying spectrum licenses. Small cells, dense fiber networks, spectrum sharing and spectrum aggregation all can expand capacity. Verizon now has ratified the use of dynamic spectrum sharing as a mainstream mobile service provider tool for 5G. 

Verizon realizes millimeter wave spectrum “is not the coverage spectrum,” Vestberg said. That is one reason why “spectrum sharing will be the next step for us to see that we have all the assets to deploy our strategy on 5G to meet the different type of use cases.”

No 5G service provider in the mobile business can escape an iron law of bandwidth, namely that lower frequency spectrum is better for coverage, while higher frequency spectrum is better for capacity, and mobile service providers need both.

That means operators always must balance coverage and capacity. But there are lots of moving parts. End user demand always changes, but most of the demand for capacity happens when users of smartphones are stationary, at home or at work. So most of the demand for capacity happens at home and at work.

“Remember, the majority of all the traffic is in dense urban areas, where we are now initially are focusing” its millimeter wave deployments, said Vestberg. Some seem to have thought Verizon had not thought through what it would have to do to support coverage. It has done so, and will use spectrum sharing as a major tool to solve that business problem. 

Specturm sharing always was destined to become a big deal.  Seven or eight years ago, Spectrum Futures set out to popularize that notion. Verizon just ratified that perspective. 

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