GSA identifies 23 countries divvying up C-band spectrum

While the C-band is expected to be subject to an auction in the U.S. later this year, other countries already have auctioned or allocated C-band spectrum for mobile broadband and 5G.

In fact, according to data released today by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 23 countries have done so since 2015, with the prices paid varying widely.

Italian operators paid the most MHz per head of population for C-band spectrum in recent auctions—more than double the dollar/MHz/population final payment value of recent auctions in Germany and the U.K., according to the GSA’s new 5G Spectrum Auction Tracker. Factors influencing operators’ spending include competition, spectrum licensing terms, existing spectrum holdings and the amount spent by mobile customers in a given country.

GSA represents vendors that supply infrastructure, semiconductors, test equipment, devices, applications and mobile support services, and they actively support the 3GPP technology road map. The GSA executive board includes Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, with representation for other members including Viavi Solutions and ZTE.

The organization refers to C-band as spectrum in the 3300-4200 MHz frequency range that offers an optimal balance between coverage and capacity. 5G applications suited to C-band spectrum include augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), ultra-high definition (UHD) video, smart home, smart manufacturing, health care and drones. 

The first 23 countries to auction or allocate C-band spectrum for 5G include Australia, Austria, Czechia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain and the U.K.

“C-Band spectrum has historically been made available around the world for fixed wireless services using legacy technologies, or has been allocated for satellite or government/military use,” said GSA President Joe Barrett in a press release. “While a few countries have made portions of C-band spectrum available for LTE, with the advent of 5G, access to C-Band spectrum is being opened up to support mobile broadband services, often specifically including 5G.”

The momentum behind 5G spectrum, networks and devices gathered pace throughout 2019, and will accelerate further in 2020, he added, noting that the GSA’s new 5G Spectrum Auction Tracker database is the “go-to industry resource” for anyone who wants to understand the latest on both a global and local basis.

Where it's at in the U.S.

Here in the U.S., after months of debate on how to allocate the C-band, which is being used by satellite companies whose clients deliver broadcast and radio content across the U.S., Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has signaled his intent for the agency to conduct a public auction of 280 megahertz of the C-band. The FCC also has indicated it can commence such an auction before the end of 2020.

Interestingly, the C-Band Alliance (CBA), which spent much of the last year arguing for why it would be the best entity to conduct an auction of the spectrum with FCC oversight, recently filed comments (PDF) about how it could work cooperatively with the FCC to develop an effective plan to incentivize a “swift transition” of 280 MHz of C-band spectrum via a public auction while protecting the rights of satellite operators and ensuring C-band service continuity for existing satellite customers.

In recent meetings with the FCC, the CBA discussed how it’s uniquely suited to serve as transition facilitator and provide the operational functions to ensure a rapid transition, including careful orchestration and coordination of both the ground and satellite aspects of spectrum clearing to that it can be used for 5G.

RELATED: Google, Charter argue CBA sale would inevitably lead to lawsuits

Cable company Charter Communications, which has been an active participant throughout the C-band proceeding, filed comments (PDF) late last month indicating its interest in protecting Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) operations in the adjacent spectrum by requiring coordination between CBRS users and C-band terrestrial users.

Such coordination is especially important given that wireless networks increasingly are being built using 3.5 GHz spectrum, and devices supporting CBRS already are being sold. Specifically, to prevent interference, Charter is urging the FCC to adopt Time Division Duplex synchronization mechanisms between CBRS and C-band terrestrial users.