By Brett Tarnutzer, head of spectrum, GSMA
Governments have just over a month to secure the future of the mobile internet. In November, the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) will decide whether to allocate more radio spectrum to mobile services. More harmonised spectrum will be critical to the mobile industry’s ability to keep up with the growing demand from citizens around the globe for mobile data services.
Mobile networks deliver billions of voice calls, messages and gigabytes of data every day and they need sufficient spectrum to work well. With global mobile connections set to grow to over eight billion by the end of next year, mobile is often the most popular way to access the internet. In many emerging markets, mobile broadband is the only way for people to get online.
Why is spectrum so important?
As data traffic surges, networks are facing a capacity crunch and spectrum is a critical element for ensuring continued high quality mobile communication. Mobile networks are seeing an exponential growth in data usage that is predicted to continue. In fact, the Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that global mobile data traffic will increase 10-fold between 2013 and 2019 and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that governments need to double the amount of spectrum available to mobile to meet future demand.
With 4G technology adoption on the rise and 5G on the horizon, GSMA operator members agree that 600-800MHz of additional spectrum needs to be identified for mobile broadband at WRC-15 to meet consumer demand.
But this is about much more than data demand; it’s also about jobs, economic growth and international competitiveness. The mobile industry contributed approximately 3.8% of global GDP in 2014, equivalent to over $3 trillion; this is expected to increase to 4.2% by 2020. In addition, the global mobile ecosystem directly supports 13 million jobs as of 2014, a figure that will rise to over 15 million by 2020 according to GSMA Intelligence [The Mobile Economy 2015]. These significant contributions to the global economy must be considered when planning spectrum allocations.
Collaboration not compromise
Governments around the world will need to make difficult decisions to ensure that spectrum is brought to its highest value use for society. The requirements of all sectors that rely on spectrum, including broadcast, aviation and satellite, need to be reassessed and prioritised. As has been the case with the digital dividend for broadcast television, spectrum re-allocations need not be a ‘zero-sum’ game, as technological advances mean that historic users of spectrum may actually be able to do more for their users with less.
Ultimately, WRC-15 is about creating flexibility for each country to meet long term spectrum plans in the way that best suits their economy and national public interest. The best way to ensure that governments have the flexibility to plan for the long term is to make a mobile allocation alongside other services, including broadcast and satellite. If countries want to keep spectrum for other services, they can, but if mobile data continues to grow as it has and is predicted to, national governments will have the option of reallocating more spectrum to mobile.
What are we looking for from WRC-15?
In the lead-up to WRC-15, we are looking for support for several spectrum bands from as many countries across the globe as possible in order to help secure the future for mobile, including the L-band (1300-1518MHz), C-band (3.4-4.2GHz) and UHF band (470-694/8MHz). While the WRC operates under a one-country, one-vote system, internationally harmonised spectrum bands lead to economies of scale, making deployment quicker and less expensive.
Unless we act now, mobile networks will not have the capacity to address the escalating data usage of consumers and businesses, while countries will miss out on significant economic benefits. We urge governments to plan ahead to foster the next generation of mobile networks and best serve the needs of their citizens.
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.