mmWave bands may not be the answer in lower ARPU Asian countries
Sep 25, 2019 by Richard Handford


Tags26 GHz, 28 GHz, Asia, mmWave

Watch any presentation made by a government official from an Asian country and 5G sounds tantalising.  Their powerpoint slides frequently use terms like “industrial revolution 4.0” and explain how their country will be a prime beneficiary from early adoption as applications such as smart factories powered by mmWave band-based networks proliferate.

Listen to mobile operators and they are more circumspect about mmWave deployments. That’s unsurprising. After all, they are the ones who will have to foot the bill. They need to be convinced the investment is worthwhile. Many are still extracting value from their 4G networks. Regulators are looking at creative ways to encourage their participation in 5G auctions.

It’s difficult to see a business case, particularly for operators in lower ARPU* Asian countries, for deploying mmWave band networks. Propagation is limited (and can be negatively affected in south-east Asian countries with high rainfall). Add in the backhaul cost of reaching base stations and the numbers are unconvincing.

Maybe mmWave base stations could serve as hotspot-type applications in densely populated Asian cities. Elsewhere, operators crave lower band frequencies to provide cost-effective coverage.

Sub-1 GHz bands such as 700 MHz (slow to be released in many Asian countries, this band is starting to become more readily available), 850 MHz and 600 MHz are ideal. The 2.6 GHz band is fine too. And 3.5 GHz has already been awarded in some countries (although there are challenges for many because of the presence of satellite TV in the band). But higher band frequencies do not look relevant. One observer recently described mmWave bands to me as “glorified WiFi”. In many Asian countries, this feels like an apt description.

*average revenue per user