The EU's Radio Spectrum Policy Group has issued its second opinion on 5G, to aid policymakers in planning for the next generation of mobile technology. The advisory group calls for large blocks of the 3.4-3.8 GHz band to be made available for mobile operators by 2020, as well as part of the 26 GHz band by the same date, according Telecompaper. The two spectrum bands were already identified in the RSPG's first opinion, issued in late 2016, as 'pioneer' bands for 5G, along with the 700 MHz band. The latter is already being awarded around the EU, with a completion deadline of mid-2020 as well. Several countries also have plans to auction the 3.4-3.8 GHz band this year as well, such as the UK and Austria. 
If the EU member states can assure these three bands are available by 2020, 5G will already have a better start than 4G, according to Roberto Viola, director-general at the European Commission's DG Connect. Speaking at the European 5G Conference in Brussels, he said this will be "the most important coordinated spectrum release" ever in Europe, and both the European Parliament and Council agree on the importance of this in making 5G a reality. 
The European Commission is aiming to make the release of the 3.4-3.8 GHz and 26 GHz bands by a certain date a legal requirement for all EU states. This forms part of the new Electronic Communications Code, which is being finalised in negotiations between the Commission, Parliament and Council. Viola said the EU is on track to complete work on the code by April, with "around 80 percent" of spectrum issues already agreed. 
Andreas Geiss, head of spectrum policy at the European Commission, said a combination of the RSPG's recommendations and a fixed deadline worked well for the 700 MHz band, and the Commission wants to see the same approach taken in the code for the other two 5G bands. This will put the EU on the path to meeting its goal of 5G networks available in at least one major city in all EU states by 2020. 
Peer reviews
Also under discussion in the code is a formal system of peer reviews for spectrum awards, whereby each EU member state subjects its licensing plans to feedback from the others. The aim is to harmonise processes and offer spectrum bidders more predictability, said Geiss. He hopes also that this will push national governments to focus less on boosting their revenues from auctions and more on creating a supportive environment for broadband investments. 
Nevertheless, the peer review proposal has received little support from EU member states, which fear losing national control of spectrum licensing. However, members of the RSPG at the conference supported a greater exchange of views between national regulators. Jonas Wessel, chair of the RSPG, said the group already held peer review workshops, and these had worked well in building trust and expertise in a number of cases, particularly cross-border issues and including the 700 MHz band coordination. 
Geiss welcomed the RSPG's efforts already in this area, but noted that only around 25 percent of spectrum awards in 2017 were subject to the peer review process at the RSPG. The EU needs to do more to make this a systematic review, in order to ensure all issues are covered, he said. This is doable without slowing down the release of spectrum, the same as many other public projects undergo public consultations, Geiss said. 
New types of authorisation
While the 700 MHz band is being released through the classic model of clearance of existing users and then an auction, the RSPG's latest opinion calls for greater flexibility on how other bands are issued. More flexible authorisations, based on geography such as regional, local or even site-specific like factories or airports, may be required to ensure 5G spectrum gets to the market where needed. 
Other bands won't necessarily need to go through the multi-year process required for releasing the 700 MHz band, said Chris Woolford, director of international spectrum policy at the European Commission. Regulators don't need to "over-engineer" the spectrum clearance process and should instead focus on making spectrum awailable when and where it's needed, he said. 
The 3.4-3.8 GHz band already has a variety of users and will require "defragmentation" by many EU countries before it can be used for 5G, the RSPG's Wessel said at the conference in Brussels. The advisory group recommended EU states get started on this work, as the 3.4-3.8 GHz band will be "key to success" for 5G in Europe, facilitating high capacity in urban and built-up areas.
The 26 GHz band may also require a more flexible approach than the standard auction, to allow existing users such as satellite operators, to continue to use the frequencies, the RSPG said. The advisory group said not all the mmWave band need be released immediately for 5G, but a "large portion", e.g. around 1 GHz, should be made available by 2020 to support the first phase of 5G roll-out. These frequencies are likely to be used first for local, fixed-wireless services, as the US operators are doing with the 28 GHz band. While the RSPG supports individual licences for the band, its opinion noted that a general authorisation with conditions for sharing the frequencies could also work. 
Other elements covered in the RSPG's opinion include the need to set quality parameters for cross-border 5G services. This will be important for new 5G applications such as autonomous vehicles, to make sure they can rely on the same network standards when traveling across Europe, said Bo Andersson, the rapporteur for 5G at the RSPG. 
While the EU institutions can provide useful work in cross-border coordination, the RSPG sees less of a role for the EU in setting coverage obligations for mobile networks. The wide range of geographies, populations and social priorities across the EU member states means coverage is an issue that should be dealt with at the national level, the RSPG said. 
Small cell permits
Participants at the conference also agreed that the EU needs to do more to make it easier to deploy mobile network sites. The use of bands such as 26 GHz or even over 60 GHz for 5G will require a huge increase in the number of network radios, due to the shorter propagation of high-band radio frequencies. 
The RSPG's opinion includes a recommendation for all EU states to work on making the permitting process easier to facilitate the roll-out of 5G. The European Commission has also proposed in the ECC a general authorisation for 'micro cells', a type of radio still to be defined but expected to cover the many small cells needed for 5G networks. This would mean deploying a new radio would be a mere formality, and not require the lengthy permit process which can reach up to two years in some EU states.