26 GHz – A radical approach to licensing in higher frequencies to increase spectrum efficiency

A new study carried out by Real Wireless on behalf of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum (UK SPF ) proposes a radical approach to licensing the 26 GHz band. The report proposes a hybrid licensing approach i.e. exclusive access to MNOs with some flexibility to share in the high demand areas and a flexible first-come first-served sharing approach would be adopted in the rest of the country.
Looking at 26 GHz spectrum: demand, delays and a novel approached to spectrum allocation
2020 was challenging in every respect and even Europe’s spectrum auctions felt the pain. The European Electronic Communications Code (ECCC) directive specifies the availability of at least 1 GHz of the 26 GHz band by the end of December 2020. In reality, only a few countries achieved this objective, with the main reasons stated as lower than expected demand, uncertainty regarding the business case and a lack of harmonisation for the award mechanisms– something regulators are working on.
The 26 GHz band is capable of delivering fibre-like speeds with extremely low latency, but the high propagation loss poses a challenge to achieve wide area coverage compared to lower spectrum bands. This clearly represents a challenge for the UK regulator, Ofcom, which is tasked with licensing this band as part of their commitment to the ECCC directive. While this spectrum band is accessible for indoor deployments under the Shared License Access scheme in the UK, the need to release the spectrum for outdoor use is what predominantly remains unfulfilled.
For the UK SPF study we went back to basics, establishing a model to demonstrate geographically where the 26 GHz spectrum was most likely to be used and to generate a series of recommendations to increase spectrum efficiency.
Typically, and in the case of the UK, licensing approaches for spectrum allocated for mobile have been framed in a national context, with incumbent MNOs acquiring the spectrum to deliver mobile services. The UK is an interesting case as, geographically speaking, it’s not a large country/area. This means that, historically at least, national licensing has made good business sense. But due to the specific characteristics of the 26 GHz band, we argued that a national approach to licensing isn’t necessarily the best option from a spectrum utilisation point of view.
The very high propagation loss means that the coverage on this band from existing cell sites and even after site densification would only be a small percentage of the land mass. There are technological features that can mitigate this to a certain extent, but comparatively, the area of coverage would be significantly lower than other mobile bands currently used. Furthermore, the amount of bandwidth available with the spectrum is noticeably higher – over 2 GHz of bandwidth compared with several 100s of MHz in the mid band and less than 100 MHz available in other lower frequency bands. These two characteristics...