5G and mmWave bands in the PolicyTracker Spectrum Database

The database has been updated to reflect the ownership of licences in potential 5G bands. Some existing licences can be used for 5G and some cannot, depending whether the service is fixed or mobile. A further complication is that in some cases a minor regulatory change would allow 5G deployment. This article explains how the database recognises this issue.

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Some licences can be used for 5G services immediately: 28 GHz assignments in the US and South Korea are examples of this, as are some recently auctioned 3.4 GHz-3.8 GHz licences in Europe.

These licences have been designed to accommodate 5G, or at least to accommodate mobile services. But most existing licences in the 5G bands were not designed for mobile services.

They were designed for point to point services or broadband fixed wireless services; some are exclusive licences for a geographical area, some are administrative assignments between two map coordinates.

To show whether licences in the 5G bands can actually be used for 5G we have introduced two new columns, AM and AN, into the database. These record whether mobile and/or fixed 5G services would be permitted in the band and if they are not permitted, the level of regulatory change which would be required to allow this.

The same four categories are used for each, as shown below:

Mobile 5G services permitted?

Fixed 5G services permitted?



Minor changes needed

Minor changes needed

Moderate changes needed

Moderate changes needed

Major changes needed

Major changes needed

Here are examples of the way these categorisations are used:

  1. Mobile 5G services: Permitted / Fixed 5G services: Permitted

    • The licences have been modified or specifically designed to allow mobile services. They can therefore also be used for 5G. FWA services can usually be deployed using a mobile licence, but this is rarely done because the fixed services are less profitable than mobile ones. Examples of licences categorised in this way:
      • e.g. 28 GHz licences in Korea and USA
      • e.g. most existing mobile licences in traditional bands like 900 MHz, would fall into this categorisation, although it is currently highly unlikely that they would be used for fixed 5G services
  2. Mobile 5G services: Minor changes needed  / Fixed 5G services: Permitted

    • In all likelihood fixed 5G services could be provided in these bands but mobile services would require minor regulatory changes
      • e.g. exclusive fixed, BWA or point to multi-point licences covering a geographic area
      • Minor regulatory changes have been made to the above licences in the USA to allow their use for mobile and fixed 5G services
    • There is a caveat here: licence power levels in existing licences may not be as high as operators would like. This might prevent the deployment of a 5G network, because the number of base stations would make it too costly. However, these power levels can often be varied in discussion with the regulator
  3. Mobile 5G services: Major changes needed / Fixed 5G services: Moderate changes needed

    • It would be moderately easy to allow fixed 5G services in this licence but allowing mobile services would require major regulatory changes.
      • e.g. an exclusive point to point licence covering geographic area
      • Co-ordination of point to point licences usually relies on services operating between two fixed points. This makes them more difficult to convert into mobile licences than BWA or point to multi-point licences, which already allow a single transmitter to cover a wide area.
  4. Mobile 5G services: Major changes needed  / Fixed 5G services: Major changes needed

    • Providing fixed and/or mobile 5G services would require major changes to the regulatory environment
      • e.g. point to point licences between map co-ordinates
      • A single licence of this type would not allow  5G fixed or mobile services over a geographic area, making commercial deployment impossible
      • However, if a limited number of companies each held large numbers of licences, conversion of these for 5G use may be challenging, but possible. A more likely option is the migration of these licences to a different part of the band and the reassignment of the freed-up spectrum using licences designed for 5G.

Dealing with uncertainty

The key difference between licences in the 4G and 5G bands is the level of uncertainty involved in the latter.

The 4G licences listed in our database definitely allow the holder to provide mobile services. Most of the licences in the 5G bands may allow the holder to provide fixed mobile 5G services but this depends on decisions taken by the regulator. As discussed above, many regulators seem likely to move point to point licences out of bands like 26 GHz then re-assign that spectrum for mobile services. The benefit of holding point to point licences in 5G bands will depend on the policy of the individual country.

So in a changing environment where final decisions have yet to be made, we have designed the categorisation above as a way of establishing who currently owns potential 5G bands and whether they can potentially be used to deploy next generation services.

Please also note that this is a high-level analysis. The categorisation shows what licences types are likely to allow. Existing licences may have specific conditions in a particular country or regions – such as lower power limits – which would greatly affect the usability of a particular band. This is a level of detail which is not included in the database but may be covered in separate research notes.