Spectrum – the lifeblood of mobile technology

Why increasing broadband spectrum is so crucial within the GCC


Author: Lan Yun, President of Carrier Network Business Group – Huawei Middle East

The growth of mobile broadband services continues to be one of the biggest drivers of both human and economic development. It empowers entrepreneurism, business innovation and financial exchange. It creates some of the greatest opportunities to gain valuable knowledge and enhance the world we live in.

From a business perspective, most poignantly in the unlimited opportunity presented by the Internet of Things (IoT), it is now hard to imagine how businesses across every industry could compete without the invaluable tools mobile technologies provide.

The biggest driving engine to this burgeoning phenomenon is broadband spectrum – essentially the allocation of the harmonized radio frequencies which are allocated to the mobile industry, balanced and based on real demand against other fixed communication channels over the airwaves, such as television or radio.

Looking at the numbers

The increasing resurgence towards smart phones generates an estimated 35 times more traffic than a traditional mobile phone. The highest growth remains within the Middle East and Africa, which in 2013 had an estimated growth in mobile data traffic of 107%. Leading through to 2019, growth in the region may slow somewhat but will still maintain a far higher than global average of 72%.

Telecoms and media specialists, Analysys Mason, recently conducted a study on the relationship between broadband spectrum allocation and the take-up of mobile services within the GCC. The study finds an insufficient allocation within the 700MHz band to provide high speed internet access for indoor and rural scenarios where indoor wifi infrastructures are often insufficient and where raised landscape topographies may require stronger frequency with high propagation characteristics.

In the meantime, data-hungry media continue to emerge. It is estimated that by 2020, more than 75% of mobile traffic will comprise of video content – a 55% increase from 2015. By 2020 it is thought there will be around 11.6 million mobile devices in use worldwide, consumed by an estimated 7.8 billion population.

5G broadband technology is forecast to come online by 2020. It will facilitate vastly faster broadband speeds, coverage, and much greater access to IoT technologies. It will also demand a far greater broadband spectrum allocation.

The case for increasing spectrum broadband allocation

Despite the growing need for broadband spectrum, insufficient allocation remains the largest obstacle to the growth of mobile usage.

TRA (Telecoms Regulatory Authority) figures suggest that the UAE has the greatest worldwide increase in ITU’s Global Information, Communications & Technology Development Index), going from 46th to 32nd place. This is based on the UAE being the world’s highest ranking country in terms of the proportion of the rural population covered by at least a 3G broadband network. The UAE ranked second of all Arab countries (closely behind Bahrain) in having the largest proportion of its population online (88%). Wireless broadband penetration in the UAE has doubled from 45% to 90% between 2013 and 2015, while mobile telephone penetration remains amongst the world’s highest at 193%.

While small cell density technologies, LTE Advanced and 5G will go some way in addressing these traffic demands, spectrum remains the key component to feeding the burgeoning mobile broadband ecosystem.

As time goes on, governments and spectrum administrators will face an increasing set of challenges in bridging the already significant broadband spectrum gap. Other aspects that need to be carefully considered and addressed are spectrum management, the sharing of spectrum frequencies between all relevant stakeholders, and unlicensed spectrum (which dictates wifi access).

Huawei’s position on spectrum allocation in the GCC

As we move further towards 5G technologies, telecoms companies are working together with regulatory authorities to allocate wider broadband spectrum. Huawei is advocating for new national broadband plans to address the world’s 1.1 billion unconnected households, while improving bandwidth to enable currently under-connected subscribers to better access content.

Through its NBN (National Broadband Network) initiative, Huawei continues to promote the diversity of available content through high-speed delivery, smart metering and smart homes through IoT technologies.

Huawei facilitates and provides spectrum studies and demands, playing a crucial role in spectrum harmonisation across different regions, including the GCC, where there has been a huge pick-up of traffic over the last three years in particular.

Due to the convergence between fixed services, mobile and media, Huawei believes it is time to revisit existing licensing and regulation in order to allocate spectrum to the most in-demand networks. A significant amount of spectrum licensing in the GCC is already assigned for fixed services. Now is the time to balance more of these resources to mobile services.

In addition to the forecasted traffic and new spectrum requirements for 5G, GCC spectrum administrators are coordinating with related industry entities to address more broadband spectrum allocation.

Positive moves

Such initiatives from telecoms companies are encouraging administrators to allocate more spectrum. Some administrators have started acting, providing low and high spectrum (800 and 2600 MHz was the case recently in Oman, for example). Meanwhile, other countries are moving forward with plans to revise the spectrum.

In February 2015, the GSMA, which represents the interests of close to 800 operators globally, together with SAMENA (the South Asia, Middle East and North Africa telecoms industry association) urged Middle East governments to collaborate in order to meet longer-term demands for broadband across the region.

In the UAE, the TRA was one of the first in the GCC to propose a 700MHz band for mobile operators. In May 2012, as part of its ‘Terrestrial Digital TV Switchover’ plan, The TRA announced its intentions to vacate 694–862MHz digital TV broadcasting by June 2015, freeing up spectrum allocation for mobile operators. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have similar intentions.

We are moving in the right direction, but need to keep the momentum going to achieve Huawei’s main and enduring aim – Open ROADS to a Better Connected World.

Huawei’s role in spectrum allocation conversation

In May 2015, Huawei unveiled its spectrum strategy moving towards 2015 at the International Regulatory conference, aimed at the acceleration of a global spectrum release and optimize spectrum pricing to build a better connected world.

Huawei firmly believes that spectram is the engine that drives economic development. To this end, the company is a very active member in both the ITU (United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies) and WRC (World Radio Communication Conference), working hand-in-hand with all the relevant bodies to allocate additional spectrum for the mobile industry.

To further drive the need for more spectrum allocation across different countries and regions, Huawei holds workshops and facilitates meetings with main regulators internationally. Since the most recent WRC 2015, Huawei and main industry vendors have formed the GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association) spectrum group, assigning a team for each region. This includes the Middle East, where Huawei has held a number of workshops with regulators to address spectrum issues.