GSMA says 5G readiness is lagging in APAC – and it can help fix that

gsma says 5G readiness lagging
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ITEM: The GSMA is rather disappointed with the lack of 5G readiness in Asia-Pacific, but says it’s nothing that a solid spectrum planning and management strategy can’t fix. Eventually.

A new analysis of 5G readiness across APAC published this week by the GSMA and consulting firm Plum found that the region is a mixed bag when it comes to 5G. Korea and Japan are the regional poster children for pioneering 5G rollouts and innovation, and countries like China are pushing ahead with 5G deployments.

However, other countries remain in the trial stage, while others haven’t even started on 5G yet, as operators remain focused on beefing up their LTE networks. From the report:

Not all the countries considered in this report are ready for a complete move to 5G; Pakistan appears to be in the process of rolling out or upgrading LTE services, and Cambodia and Indonesia are still investigating the role of 5G as a technology.

According to the report, a major issue is spectrum availability, or lack thereof, especially for frequencies below 1 GHz. The GSMA says that operators will need an average of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum alone in the 2025-2030 timeframe to reap the promised benefits of 5G. But in many cases, the current path to meeting such that demand is unclear. In some countries, no 5G spectrum of any stripe has been awarded at all.

The report found that a planned approach to spectrum availability and management are key differentiators for successful 5G rollouts, especially in 700MHz and the mid-bands, said the GSMA’s Head of Spectrum, Luciana Camargos.

“The most successful countries are those with a defined plan for 5G deployment. Across APAC, we see a wide disparity in countries’ readiness for 5G, and the key differentiator is spectrum management,” Camargos said in a statement.

However, APAC’s natural diversity in terms of demographics and economies means that countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam will require enhanced or bespoke roadmaps, the report says.

That said, the GSMA has devised a 5G roadmap that outlines key steps that APAC countries should take to get onboard the 5G train regardless of the local situation:

Step 1: ID your 5G bands – ideally starting with the 3500 MHz, 700 MHz and mmWave bands, but really whatever spectrum you can free up, to include refarming 2G/3G spectrum and other internatonally harmonized bands.

Step 2: Spectrum clearance, with an eye on the socio-economic benefits that arise from both old and new uses of spectrum.

Step 3: Technology definition and restrictions to inform technical licence obligations and the amount and geographic availability of the spectrum.

Step 4: Spectrum valuation – whatever you do, don’t set the spectrum price so high that operators can’t afford it.

Step 5: Award design –  auctions, beauty contests, direct awards, it’s up to you, and will depend on policy objectives, available spectrum, and market specifics.

Step 6: Award implementation – underpinned by documentation that provides all the necessary details of the award process, spectrum on offer, licence obligations and other essential information for potential licensees.

While the steps are essentially what most countries already do on a general level when it comes to allocating and managing mobile spectrum, the devil is in the details, the GSMA says:

It is important to recognise that although the steps may be the same for each country, the detailed activities under each may vary. Consultation with interested parties during the process is important to achieving optimum outcomes. In addition, while this roadmap sets out the steps needed for spectrum assignment, there are many other aspects of network deployments – such as trials, ecosystem specification, and market analysis – that must be carried out simultaneously.

Source: GSMA, “Roadmaps for awarding 5G spectrum in the APAC region”, April 2022

In other words, roadmap or not, the road to commercial 5G remains a long and challenging one for many APAC markets, and there are many ways it could go wrong.

The full report – which goes into high-level detail about the above roadmap steps – is right here.

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