Spectrum to enable 5G services in the shorter term – C band (3.4-3.8 GHz)

January 2018


Whilst the work towards standardising 5G continues, it is becoming clear that there is a strategic and commercial imperative to launch 5G type services much earlier than initially anticipated. New spectrum bands being considered above 20 GHz in the international spectrum process will not be identified until the end of 2019.  Typically such bands (from the ITU WRC process) can take 5-10 years to be available in some markets.  It is clear that to offer the proposed user data rates in excess of 100 Mbits/s, will require much larger contiguous blocks of spectrum than is available today in mobile bands below 3GHz.

One option is to make available large spectrum bands above 20 GHz now.  This is the option taken by the US FCC, with a number of bands including 28 GHz. The other is to use bands already identified internationally for mobile broadband that could be large enough to offer 5G services. The frequency band most appropriate for offering high capacity 5G  services is the C Band (3.4-3.8 GHz - depending on national circumstances).

It is this second issue, the use of C band to offer 5G  services before or around 2020 that is debatable. The European Commission in its action plan for 5G has identified this band (along with 700 MHz) as a “pioneer spectrum band” to enable 5G take-up as early as 2018 and large scale deployment by 2020.

However there is a danger that the spectrum will be made available in a fragmented and piecemeal way across Europe.  This is because of:


1) Incumbent use for legacy fixed wireless access leading to fragmented use, and

2) Problems that may arise with international cross border coordination to prevent radio interference.


These two issues may undermine the business case in Europe for the large investments required, or delay them in the current challenging financial climate for mobile.

This is the subject of a white paper containing a comprehensive review of various related topics inclduing  international coordination and economics considerations. The white paper can be obtained through our site.