To fulfil its potential 5G needs access to much higher frequencies: 3.5 GHz and above. This was not the case with earlier mobile generations.

5G can offer higher speeds because the higher frequencies have more bandwidth than the lower ones traditionally used for mobile. This is particularly true of the mmWave bands: 26 GHz has 2.25 GHz available, compared to 45 MHz in the 700 MHz band.

Spectrum release timeline

Internationally there has been a race to ensure that spectrum is made available for 5G. The USA auctioned mmWave spectrum in 2019 and in the same year the EU harmonised three 5G “pioneer bands”: 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz (3.4-3.8 GHz) and 26 GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz). By the end of 2020, most EU countries had made these bands available.

There is a consensus that 5G needs low bands for coverage, medium bands for faster speeds covering a reasonable area and high-frequency bands for the highest speeds. Currently, the most used bands are:

  • Low-band: 700 MHz (except in US); 600 MHz (US)
  • Mid-band: 3.3 – 3.8 GHz (except US); 2.6 GHz, 3.7 – 4.98 GHz (US)
  • High-band: 26 GHz (except Japan, South Korea and US); 28 GHz (Japan, South Korea and US)

At the ITU World Radio Conference in 2023 (WRC-23) a further IMT identification could be approved for 3.3-3.4 GHz, 3.6-3.8 GHz, 6425-7125 GHz and 10.1-10.5 GHz, facilitating the use of these bands for 5G.

Which bands are most used?

At the end of March 2021, 5G commercial services had been deployed in 24 EU-27 countries. The most used frequency bands are 700 MHz and 3.3 – 3.8 GHz with the latter established as the global workhorse band for 5G.

The slightly higher 3.7-4.2 GHz was viewed until recently as more peripheral. Some European countries had offered it directly to industry verticals. Japan had awarded 3.6-4.0 GHz to mobile operators for 5G in 2019 but that was a relatively rare occurrence.

Those assumptions were smashed by the staggering prices that US mobile operators paid for the 3.7 – 3.98 GHz band at an auction that concluded in early 2021. In total, operators paid $81 billion for the spectrum, plus $9.7 billion in incentive payments for incumbent satellite operators to vacate the band. It is fair to expect more activity in 3.7-4.2 MHz band.

mmWave frequencies have not seen wide commercial deployment, and most EU countries have yet to auction off the 26 GHz or 28 GHz band. The US led the world in making the 28 GHz band available for 5G. Several other countries, particularly Japan and South Korea, quickly followed. However, in the last couple of years interest in either 26 GHz or 28 GHz has waned.

Latest News in Europe

The Netherlands to award 3.6 GHz band in late 2023

A special advisory committee to the Dutch government has released its recommendation for moving forward on the delayed spectrum award.

Policy workshop on EU microchips act to take place June 16

A workshop organised by COREnect will discuss steps to achieve European leadership in microelectronics and connectivity.

EU and China lagging behind in mmWave spectrum

The new 5G Observatory report reveals the average EU country has assigned just a fraction of the mmWave spectrum awarded in the USA, South Korea and Japan.

Slovakia completes 3.5 GHz 5G auction

The country’s leading four operators all won licences in the award, which raised a total of €63.6 million.

EU27 achieve 64% 5G population coverage

The new 5G Observatory report reveals a significant increase in the levels of 5G coverage.

Report: greater use of non-pioneer bands linked to lower download speeds

The new 5G Observatory report says two thirds of European mobile operators are including non-pioneer bands in their 5G rollout.

5G Observatory releases new streamlined quarterly report

The 5G Observatory has published its new quarterly report which gives readers an updated overview of major new 5G developments in Europe and international markets.

New industry body offers support and funding for 5G startups

Bouygues Telecom, Cellnex, KPN, MTN, Telefonica and WindTre have come together in a new telco alliance, named Alaian, to connect their innovation ecosystems and support startups in 5G-based ventures.

Cyprus is “first EU country with 100% 5G coverage”

Having recently completed their 5G mobile network, Cyprian operator Cyta claims it now covers the country’s whole population.

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