Many aspects of 5G remain open to discussion, but one area where there seems to be clarity is the general spectrum approach.
Mobile operators around the world use the 600 MHz or 700 MHz bands for low-band coverage, the 26 GHz or 28 GHz for the high-band ultra-dense use cases, and frequencies around 3.3 – 4.2 GHz band, the C-Band, for everything in between. The C-Band in particular is attracting regulatory attention: the UK completed an auction of 160 MHz in the band yesterday while the US sold 280 MHz of the spectrum for $81 billion earlier this year. All EU Member States were also supposed to make it available by the end of last year.
There is one exception to the rule, however, China Mobile. The operator, which has the largest number of subscribers in the world, has no access to the C-Band.
The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has reserved these frequencies for its smaller rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom. China Mobile instead uses a very wide assignment at 2.6 GHz and also the 4800 – 4900 MHz band for its 5G trials. Its Chairman, Yang Jie, appears unconcerned. He wrote in a 2020 report that China Mobile’s spectrum allocations are sufficient for anticipated customer growth in the near future.
So is China Mobile the exception that proves the rule, or an illustration that no “one-size-fits-all”. Only time will tell, of course. But it’s worth noting that T-Mobile, which already has significant 2.6 GHz band leases in the US, felt the need to spend $9.3 billion on C-Band spectrum in the FCC’s recent auction.
More information about China Mobile, and a series of other operator profiles, is available to Spectrum Research Subscribers here.