? While the U.S. pushes forward on testing next-generation 5G wireless technology, deployment and adoption of LTE, a 4G mobile communications standard, is still the No. 1 priority in many markets worldwide.
? Spectrum harmonization efforts will be key going forward as new mid-band and high-band frequencies are opened up for wireless broadband use.
? The U.S. will face unique challenges in the mid band given how much of the country's spectrum is already in use by federal agencies.
5G Americas — an industry trade organization composed of América Móvil SAB de CV, AT&T Inc., Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Group, Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US Inc. and Telefónica SA, among others — is dedicated to the deployment of LTE and its evolution to 5G. In a recent interview, 5G Americas President Chris Pearson discussed the various regulatory environments, deployment strategies and market realities that will be critical to understand as the Americas move forward on 5G development. An edited transcript of the interview with Pearson follows.
S&P Global Market Intelligence: There's a lot of talk about 5G in the U.S. right now, but are there regions where you are still trying to get LTE widely deployed?
5G Americas President Chris Pearson
Source: 5G Americas
Chris Pearson: The good news is in the last year, we've seen a great uptake in LTE as far as connections. It's grown in Latin America and the Caribbean about 89%. From June 2016 to June 2017, LTE connections in Latin America and the Caribbean grew from 81.5 million to 159 million, so that's a very significant uptake. And we expect this momentum to continue because it's a very large market if you look at the number of connections. What isn't large is the average revenue per user per month — it's about $10 to $12.
In terms of the 159 million connections you mention — what does that represent in terms of penetration.
The LTE penetration rate rose to almost 25% in June 2017, up from less than 13% a year earlier.
So in thinking about your work across a multitude of regions, you also advocate for more spectrum to be made available for wireless use. Are you looking at uniform spectrum bands across countries?
That's what we would like. Our first question is how do we harmonize spectrum in the Americas region, and sometimes that's been successful. An example would be the 850 MHz band, which is pretty well deployed throughout the Americas region. Another band that's been successful is the AWS bands in the 1.7 GHz to 2.1 GHz range. Less successful is the 700 MHz band, where we have two separate plans: the U.S. 700 MHz band plan, used by the U.S., Canada and some Caribbean countries; and the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity 700 MHz spectrum band plan, which most of the Latin American region is adopting. They did that because, technically, the Asia-Pacific plan was a little better. It was a larger swath of spectrum, offering multiple 20 MHz LTE channels. The U.S. plan provides for 10 MHz LTE channels. But it's really important to us to get spectrum that's similar for the region.
The U.S. has been very bullish on opening up high-band spectrum for 5G and wireless broadband use. Does being an early mover make the U.S. a leader, or does it risk isolating us in terms of spectrum harmonization?
It's definitely good for the leadership role of U.S. to come out and put your marker down. It also allows the companies to start working on 5G for high-band spectrum. And they followed most of the International Telecommunication Union bands that are going to be studied for 5G worldwide. But it remains to be seen whether others will follow us. They followed the U.S. in AWS throughout this region, but they didn't follow us for 700 MHz. They want to be harmonious, but they also want the best decision for their country.
What would you like to see happen in the mid band, or in the 1 GHz to 6 GHz range?
We would like to see more spectrum identified for mobile wireless and 5G. We think there is a lot of work that needs to be done to keep the U.S. in its leadership role. Most of the other regions of the world are looking at the mid band very seriously. I think the U.S. has more challenges than most because we are using so much of that mid band for federal uses. So we need to look at what can we do as a nation if we're going to be this innovative leader in wireless what bands can we make available. The big band that everyone's been talking about for quite some time is 3.5 GHz. In the opinion of 5G Americas, 3.5 GHz is going to be a global 5G band. And the U.S. right now is moving down the pathway of a shared spectrum model because we have federal users.
How does spectrum sharing work in terms of international harmonization efforts?
Spectrum sharing introduces some complexity from a technical side to operators and the vendors that are creating equipment. So it's a plus and a minus because you are getting access to spectrum that you wouldn't be able to get otherwise unless they agreed to vacate it or were incentivized to vacate it. On the other hand, you are not getting the full usage of it and as a result, it's not the same exact spectrum that is going to be utilized globally. But what we need to do as a country is look at 3.5 GHz and then say what are the other opportunities in mid band that can be utilized that could also be global 5G bands? 5G is going to be about low, mid and high band spectrum and it's going to be about licensed, shared and unlicensed spectrum. So all of those will contribute to 5G, but No. 1 will be more licensed spectrum.