mmWave: the transatlantic divide
Apr 12, 2019 by Martin Sims


Bands20 - 30 GHz
LocationEurope, Italy, UK, US

5G services in mmWave bands have been as popular in the US as they are unpopular in Europe. Verizon is already providing home broadband using pre-standards 5G in 28 GHz in several US cities, with AT&T following close behind.

In Europe, there are plenty of mmWave trials. However, the only firm deployment plans are in the 3.5 GHz band, such as BT’s launch in 16 UK cities by the end of the year. In the UK, Ofcom is open to requests allowing mobile 5G in existing mmWave licences. Have there been any applications? We are not aware of any.

5G mmWave deployment in the US and Europe

Why is this? As we have argued previously, the US market-led approach has allowed mobile usage of existing mmWave licences. In Europe, only Italy has auctioned mmWaves, although the UK and France have similar plans. Whether existing mmWave licences can be used for 5G mobile services is clouded with uncertainty in most European countries.

Regulatory issues are clearly a barrier. But I also sense that apart from vendors, industry in Europe is lukewarm about mmWave. There is nothing like the vibrant competition seen in the US for 28 GHz and in 24 GHz.

To take another example, Jersey, the UK Crown dependency off the French coast, has just announced a very impressive 5G testbed. It will be live by the end of the year.

Jersey is a tiny island of only 118 km², with 100 per cent fibre connectivity. It is the perfect place for 5G trials. But the services being provided by incumbent Jersey Telecom are at 3.5 GHz rather than mmWave bands such as 26 GHz or around 40 GHz.

Why not? At a recent TechUK event Graeme Millar, the company’s CEO, cited the propagation restrictions in mmWave. He suggested it is best suited for small areas requiring very high capacity. But he added that with all that fibre, he’d be happy to install a mmWave network if anyone asked.

An island this small is one of the few jurisdictions where anything like ubiquitous mmWave coverage is achievable, but it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. This seems indicative of the sentiment in Europe generally.

This raises the question of whether mmWave 5G can do something commercially worthwhile that can’t be done in the mid-bands. European operators seem to think no, while US operators think yes. Will this divide in 5G mmWave deployment in the US and Europe persist? The next few years, with their expected 26 GHz auctions,  will tell us.•


  • Andrew Reid says:

    Hi Martin,

    I’m wondering if the lack of mid-band spectrum available in the US also makes the mmWave bands more attractive? Perhaps European operators feel more assured that they can deploy 5G in the 3.5 GHz band, while US operators have fewer mid-band 5G spectrum options and feel compelled to look to mmWave instead?

  • Richard Womersley says:

    I’m with James Fink, co-founder of Mimosa networks, who produce equipment that delivers Gbit connectivity at 24 GHz and so should know what he’s talking about.  He says (of Verizon’s 28 GHz trials),

    “Delivering mmWave broadband connectivity in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) environments, such as suburban and urban areas, is extremely problematic over the last quarter mile, because of foliage and solid constructions. Rather than using the challenging, unproven mmWave channels for 5G, the industry should use the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands, which have incredible propagation characteristics through foliage and construction materials”.

    The recent recent PT article on the 4.8 GHz band points to a realistic sub-6 GHz alternative that is already gaining traction in some countries.

  • admin_pt says:

    Thanks for the comments! I am sure that the relative scarcity of mid-band in the USA must be a contributory factor. Interesting what Mimosa say – you would think it would be in their interests to promote 5G last mile connections in the mmWave bands.

    This issue seems to have stimulated a lot of debate – there are a few linked in comments  following the article. Many thanks for giving your views! Martin