U.S. regulators have been very bullish around the role of millimeter wave frequencies for 5G service, opening vast swaths of high-band spectrum for auction. Millimeter wave was used for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile 5G launches, although the first two operators are tapping dynamic spectrum sharing to expand 5G coverage and T-Mo was focused more on its 600 MHz 5G offering.
Around the world, the vast majority of operators are using mid-band spectrum for 5G but to deliver on the multi-gigabit speeds associated with 5G, millimeter wave is how it’s done. But what’s the outlook across the pond among European Union member states and the United Kingdom?
The European Union-backed 5G Observatory tracks all things 5G on the continent in its quarterly reports and also benchmarks the trajectory of 5G in Europe as compared to other key geographies. In tallying millimeter wave action in December report, the 5G Observatory notes that, to date, only Italian regulators have assigned 26 GHz frequencies to operators.
The three pioneer 5G spectrum bands identified by the EU are 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz. For low-band, the EU 5G Observatory tallies 700 MHz assignments in Germany, France, Finland, Italy, Sweden and Denmark.
For mid-band, spectrum assignments have taken place in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Spain.
Now, for the millimeter wave assignments. Spoiler alert: It’s a short list. From the report, “Only Italy has so far assigned spectrum in the 26 GHz band.” But there’s plenty of action coming down the pike with millimeter wave auctions in numerous countries on the books for later this year and next year.
As the report authors note, “High-band spectrum is known as the extreme capacity layer with large amounts of spectrum potentially available for very high capacity, very high data rates but limited coverage, partially offset by massive MIMO.”
In the U.K., the national telecoms regulator has “made local [26 GHz] licenses available on demand subject to coordination…No clear market demand, award is not expected to take place in 2020.”