700 MHz is Becoming an Invaluable Spectrum Tool in the Mobile Operator’s Toolbox

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By Jake Saunders | 1Q 2022 | IN-6408

As 5G deployment furthers its global reach, the utilization of the 700 MHz band is taking central stage in the mobile spectrum.

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700 MHz Spectrum Allocation


In December 2021, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) released their 700 MHz December 2021 Spectrum Update. There are at least 145 countries with spectrum commitments in the 700 MHz band and within that total, 93 have broad spectrum support in the 700 MHz band. This highlights the growing interest in the 700 MHz band and its importance to operators and economies.

Recently spectrum activities around the 700 MHz band include the first Latin America country to make the change, Chile, whose operators have been allocated 700 MHz. Europe issued a formal decision, the “EC Implementing Decision (EU) 2016(687)”, back in 2016 to harmonize the 700 MHz band for terrestrial systems and make it available by the end of June 2020. For example, in France, there are already more than 10,000 sites which support the 700 MHz according to its spectrum authority, ANFR (L'Agence Nationale des Fréquences). TPG Telecom has successfully rolled out its 5G standalone 700 MHz band services in Australia to provide coverage to 85% of Australia’s population. KDDI (Japan) started its 5G 700 MHz rollout in March 2021 with the goal of providing enhanced 5G experience by improving indoor and outdoor coverage. In North America, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US have been harnessing the 700 MHz and the 600 MHz bands, respectively. However, the most significant deployment in 2021 comes from China. China Broadcasting Network (CBN) and China Mobile are building out more than 480,000 5G base-stations at 700 MHz band.

700 MHz's Versatile Use


5G is only starting to secure a presence in Emerging Markets but the 700 MHz has the potential to be a transformative spectrum band for reducing the Total Cost of Operations (TCO) of coverage for emerging markets while also expanding coverage for Internet of Things (IoT) and for end-users on the move (i.e., improved communications in vehicles and trains, etc.).

  • Internet of Things: IoT devices have low data throughput requirements (typically one Megabit or lower) but require a very reliable connection. Often these IoT devices transmit small packets of data but over a large area. In addition, equipment that interfaces with cellular IoT technology can be located both indoors and outdoors. Therefore, the 700 MHz is ideal to support IoT applications and services.  In Europe, regulators such as Ofcom have released the 700 MHz to operators in a bid to support the development of IoT applications. Based on ABI Research’s forecast, by 2026, the number of 4G and 5G IoT connections is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19% to reach 560 million connections.
  • Connectivity on the Move: Users with high mobility range from truck drivers on highways to end-users on intercity trains. The 700 MHz with its wide and deep coverage capability provide the essential layer to keep users connected seamlessly throughout their journey. Having a single coverage layer will also mitigate any potential disruption in service due to poor handover which could arise when operators use Mid or High frequency bands. Aside from mobility on land, we should also take note of activities offshore; 5G is set to bring about value creation in the enterprise segment and drive Industry 4.0 adoption in oil and gas exploration, fisheries, marine conservation, etc. For example, T-Mobile and Tampnet have both secured 700 MHz spectrum licenses for use on the Dutch Continental Shelf.
  • More Cost-effective Coverage of Rural Communities: Cellular connectivity has been the powerhouse of economic growth and societal development over the past twenty-five years. However, much of those benefits have been conferred on towns and cities while rural communities have been underserved. According to 2018 United Nations Population Division data, almost half of the world’s population (44.3%) live in rural areas. Approximately 800 million people world-wide do not have viable access to broadband telecommunications–fixed or mobile. A base-station using 700 MHz can have an effective coverage radius of 100 Km and yet still deliver 30–250 MBps of data throughput. 700 MHz may not assure every rural community can secure access to cellular connectivity, but it can reduce the Total Cost of Ownership of serving rural areas.

Expanding IOT and Handset Support for 700 MHz


Support for the 700 MHz band is not just building with regulators but also with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) infrastructure vendors and, just as crucially, mobile device vendors. Without the devices and products available for consumers and businesses to use, the momentum of 700 MHz band will not accelerate. According to the GSA, the number of devices which supports 5G ecosystem has reached more than 300 for the “n28 band” (APT700), the highest among all the Low Bands for 5G. The growth has been remarkable as just prior in June 2020 the number of devices announced for n28 band was approximately 40. Furthermore, the GSA state, there are more than 100 devices announced which supports the n12 band (700 MHz, Lower SMH). More than just the number of devices, the industry players have also collaborated and advanced the development for the 700 MHz band. For example, Qualcomm is collaborating with Vivo, Quectel, Fibocom, and Gosuncn for devices which support the 700 MHz band. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G modem-RF system, which supports the 700 MHz, was launched in 2020 and has been utilized in CBN’s 5G trials.

Not only does ABI Research expect 700 MHz be widely adopted by Internet of Things vendors and service providers but also by low-cost handsets for emerging markets. Rural connectivity faces several engineering, logistical, and economic challenges. In many emerging markets, the disposable income of end users constrains the available investment by mobile telecoms. The Average Revenue per User (ARPU) in Nigeria, India, and Indonesia is US$3.35, US$2.15, and US$2.64 per month, respectively. While 700 MHz could provide a significant boost to improving coverage in emerging markets, it is a spectrum “tool” that has to be implemented alongside higher spectrum frequency assets. 700 MHz is limited in channel bandwidth which reduces overall data throughput. Also, higher frequencies can support Massive MIMO antennas of 32T32R, 64T64R, or even potentially higher order. Massive MIMO antennas at 700 MHz would be too large to be commercially viable.



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