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Is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing the key to boosting 5G coverage?

We caught up with Boston Consulting Group’s David Panhans, MD and partner, Thibault Werle, MD and partner, and Faisal Hamady, principal, to find out how operators can ramp up their 5G offering through Dynamic Spectrum Sharing

Is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing the key to boosting 5G coverage?

Dynamic Spectrum Sharing represents a real opportunity for operators to launch 5G in a cost effective manner, where cost constraints or insufficient spectrum release may have delayed the launch. However, it can also be deployed in regions where there is already adequate spectrum release, as a way of helping operators make a speedy return on their huge 5G capital expenditures.

CommsMEA spoke to three experts from Boston Consulting Group as operators in the region look to build out their 5G offerings.

David Panhans, managing director and partner, Thibault Werle, managing director and partner, and Faisal Hamady, principal of Boston Consulting Group explain how Dynamic Spectrum Sharing technology is making a difference for operators here in the Middle East and Africa region.  

How well prepared is the GCC region in terms of allocating sufficient spectrum for 5G?

“With the fast pace of technological innovations, traditional ways of managing and allocating spectrum have resulted in several challenges that need to be addressed.

“Among the most prominent is the repurposing of bands (for example, such as Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) for new types of uses, including digital broadcasting) and how to free up congested bands to eliminate interference. New models are emerging, which have the necessary frameworks and tools to help spectrum managers make the right trade-offs and decisions regarding current emerging uses. A good proportion of spectrum practices in the GCC are revamped where spectrum managers are upgrading their toolkit and starting to head towards a more balanced and foreward looking spectrum policy.

“In terms of allocating terrestrial IMT spectrum for operators, several GCC nations have made excellent progress recently (for example, KSA being among the top countries on spectrum allocation – excluding mmWave) but overall it varies across the region. There is still a potential to further accelerate the actions regarding 5G spectrum refarming and release and to provide further visibility to the market and investors.

“The current traction at the region’s level can be further accelerated to be in line with the global development (especially further in lower and mid-band allocations as well as tapping into the mmWave potential).

“In terms of private and local deployments, this is broadly still in nascent stages. Moving forward, the GCC nations could experiment more by defining the vertical spectrum as this will foster innovation in logistics, manufacturing plants, and ports to become more acquainted with 5G and its capabilities. The region has organisations in the energy, logistics and oil and gas sectors, all of which can build their own private networks to connect to different offshore fields and introduce new innovative solutions in their field operations. Overall, telcos haven’t cracked the sweet spot in 5G yet, but they are looking ahead alongside their ecosystem of partners to determine future roles in the IoT space and what vertical solutions they can offer to accommodate a sufficient 5G spectrum.”

How can dynamic spectrum sharing help operators reduce costs?

“Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, at its core, generally provides more benefits than downsides and risk, as it supports 5G introduction by enabling the coexistence of 5G Network Radio (NR) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) at the same time on the same spectrum band.

“When looking at cost reduction and making efficient use of spectrum resources to expand 5G coverage, low-to-mid Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) bands are required. This, in turn, can result in deep indoor coverage and signal strength, where for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing allows a dynamic allocation based on capacity requirements and provides flexibility as users shift from LTE to 5G.

Further research has shown that nationwide C-band coverage is very costly, and for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing would offer a cost-efficient way to achieve nationwide 5G coverage in instances such as leveraging mid-bands (for example, C-band) in inner cities and for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (in low-and/or mid-band) in suburban and rural areas.”

What challenges are there to be overcome in terms of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing?

“Considering the changing demand and supply, countries need to implement a balanced Dynamic Spectrum Sharing strategy that requires a thorough understanding of the trends affecting spectrum, insight into the priorities of spectrum users and stakeholders, and knowledge of supply.

“Implementation of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing may create an overhead to support the coexistence of LTE and 5G in the same band, which depends on network configuration, scheduling algorithms, testing, and validation, etc. This may result in some instances in very limited speed and capacity benefit vs. LTE. Hence a risk of customer disillusion about 5G benefits without complementary C-Band/mmWave rollout might deem a low opportunity to monetise full 5G later on.      

“However, the overhead cost is marginal when compared to the alternative option of the refarming of spectrum from LTE to 5G NR. Additionally, while Dynamic Spectrum Sharing requires only a firmware upgrade, the hardware should be modernised, and most players will need to ensure that modernised hardware is firmly established within the framework.”

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