5G spectrum clubs and “open trials”: does free mean freeloading?
Feb 20, 2019 by Manuel R. Marti


Millimetre wave spectrum not only promises to deliver faster speeds, greater bandwidth and lower latency, but its restricted propagation means it may come with a whole new range of licensing models.

France, for example, is offering temporary licences in the 26 GHz band to companies willing to allow third parties access their infrastructure.

In return these “open 5G trial platforms” will be granted a three-year licence under a temporarily relaxed regulatory framework.

The regulator is hoping operators will collaborate with vertical customers to increase understanding of the technology and test business models.

When we asked Arcep whether this meant mandatory access at no cost and the answer was clear: nothing has yet been decided.

But if verticals can use infrastructure free of charge won’t that discourage mobile operators and neutral hosts from setting up these trial networks? On the other hand, do industries and startups have the skills or funding to set up their own networks?

Elsewhere in Europe, Denmark is mulling network sharing in 5G pioneer bands, including mmWave spectrum.

Italy, which became the first country to auction the 26 GHz band, is proposing a ‘club licensing’ model. Under this approach, licensees (mobile carriers) will be able to share any unused spectrum from the other licensees, improving their offering at no extra cost.

Similarly, three US academics have also suggested  their regulator establish a mmWave spectrum access club. They claim it would be an ideal middle-ground between exclusively licensed and unlicensed spectrum access regimes.

It is far too early to tell which option is more likely to work better in practice, but regulatory bodies are certainly exploring new ground.