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.

In 2019, the European Union harmonised three so-called pioneer bands. These bands are the 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz bands. It is, however, up to the Member States to assign these bands.

The latest 5G Observatory report says Member States which have been slow to release the pioneer bands rely more heavily on existing spectrum holdings for their 5G rollout.

The report suggests that countries that rely more heavily on non-pioneer spectrum bands such as the 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz bands tend to have below-average mobile download speeds.

Italian operator Wind Tre for example has achieved 96% 5G population coverage using the 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands. Its C-band coverage however is only 50%.

The increased reliance on lower bands results in slower download speeds for the operator. According to OpenSignal, WindTre achieves speeds of 64.7 Mbit/s in areas covered by 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. This is much lower than the 273.7 Mbit/s speed achieved in cities by rival Telecom Italia using C-band.

There are, however, some notable exceptions to this. In the Netherlands, operators only have access to one pioneer band, 700 MHz, which was auctioned in 2021. 5G in that country has largely been dependent on 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz. Yet according to DESI data the country had the joint best 5G coverage in the EU in 2020 and was third-best in 2021.

The entirety of the new 5G Observatory report can be found here.

Subscribe to our mailing list