The specter of spectrum waste or a spectrum of possibilities?

Contribution and cost of extra capacity options by 2020 (Rethink Technology Research)

Many mobile network deployment/optimization projects reveal an interesting truth about (radio frequency) spectrum, the vital and scarce resource for wireless communication. Indeed, it is typical for at least some radio frequency bands to stay under-utilized or be deployed sub-optimally due to the limited consideration of their actual impact on network experience. Such “waste” can become a major business issue for mobile network operators (MNOs), who have invested in expensive licensed spectrum.

The situation is similar to what I encountered as a mobile network planning/optimization expert many years ago. Even mature networks were subject to what seemed to be the rule back then: the available 2G/3G spectrum was only partially used, and significant (double-digit percentage) improvements – e.g. in additional network capacity or better network experience – were possible without further spectrum investment.

Such improvements only slightly surprised the MNO engineering teams. Although haunted by the specter of network resource waste, a multitude of factors – including network complexity and lack of expertise – effectively compromised their efforts to maximize spectrum efficiency. Of course, optimization alone was unable to fully meet rising customer data demand and expectations for great network experience anytime and anywhere. However, relying on expensive and ultimately insufficient licensed spectrum could not be a sustainable strategy for long.

According to a new Amdocs and Rethink Technology Research report, spectrum efficiency is ranked second in the top-10 network-related challenges for MNO CTOs worldwide. In other words, spectrum is still a critical challenge for MNOs who want to better manage the network experience of their customers and enhance network ROI. And there are various options that MNOs can consider here, from ROI-driven network deployment/optimization and more efficient mobile technologies, to spectrum re-farming and the – increasingly appealing – utilization of unlicensed spectrum.

Indeed, according to a Rethink Technology Research 2016 study (referenced in the same report) unlicensed spectrum is expected to provide twice as much extra network capacity (23%) as new licensed spectrum (12%) by 2020. And with an overall estimated cost 4-5 times lower than new licensed spectrum, this means that unlicensed spectrum could be up to 10 times more ROI-efficient for adding capacity and improving network experience.

The spectrum discussion, including alternative (dynamic sharing) utilization models, is also relevant to 5G and the 5G business case. Governments and supranational organizations (e.g. the European Union) appear willing to revisit traditional licensing schemes so as to accelerate the deployment of 5G and pave the way for a “spectrum” of exciting possibilities. In effect, as described in this article, 5G has emphasized the need for a next-generation spectrum management approach. And spectrum management is an essential part of managing network experience.

Download the new Amdocs and Rethink Technology Research report to learn more about the top-10 MNO CTO challenges, including spectrum, and the importance of network experience management.

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