Digital Regulation Platform

Technology innovations driving new spectrum demand



The demand for access to many segments of spectrum is increasing, as new technologies allow a variety of applications to make use of a broader range of frequency bands. For example, International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) applications using the fifth generation of mobile technologies (5G) now compete with incumbent services in low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum. While the most common frequency bands for mobile networks to date have been focused on low- and mid-band spectrum, interest in the use of the high-bands for 5G, such as millimetre wave (mmWave) between 24 GHz and 86 GHz, has put them in focus as well. Some countries are even studying the potential use of frequencies as high as 200 GHz, such as the Ofcom in the United Kingdom.

This increased demand makes efficient spectrum use more important. In addition, applications for expanded connectivity such as high-altitude platform stations (HAPS) and non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite systems increased the pressure for access to spectrum in high-band frequencies. At the same time, short-range unlicensed interconnected devices operating through applications like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have proliferated, further increasing competition for valuable and finite spectrum.

This section explores five technologies that are driving the changing demand for spectrum: 5G, HAPS, NGSO satellite systems, Internet of Things (IoT), and Wi-Fi. It examines how each technology will impact demand for specific frequency bands and offers considerations for regulators based on different international experiences.

5G spectrum needs

Overview of the technology

5G deployment offers several benefits over previous generations of mobile technologies, including:

Source: TMG;; IEEE.

The advances of 5G are based on its use of orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), which modulates the transmission of digital signals between multiple bandwidths. Higher speeds allow users to upload and download more content, especially large files including video, in a fraction of the time. Lower latencies will benefit a variety of applications, from improving the quality of videoconferencing to enabling uses like remote device control. Increased capacity will allow more users to benefit from these applications over the same network at the same time. 5G networks will be able to provide these benefits only if the necessary spectrum is available for all use cases.

Spectrum needs

The implementation of 5G networks will create additional demand for frequency bands below 6 GHz, which are most often already assigned for use by several incumbent services (ITU 2016). These sub-6 GHz bands have relatively better propagation characteristics, offering the benefit of a wider coverage area as compared with mmWave, but their heavy incumbent use limits the availability of large, contiguous blocks of spectrum. The mmWave bands offer a different set of opportunities and challenges for 5G implementation. There is more spectrum available in mmWave bands because of less incumbent use, which allows for wider bandwidths supporting higher throughputs. Its use is limited, however, by lower propagation characteristics that make them suitable for the coverage of relatively small areas, usually in dense environments.

Source: TMG.

Country examples

Globally, many countries are identifying and allocating spectrum for 5G, usually auctioning multiple bands at once, including high- mid- and low-range frequencies. Countries are auctioning multiple bands in the same range. For example, Germany auctioned mid-band spectrum in the 2.1 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands at the same time (European 5G Observatory 2019).

Additionally, in 2019, Germany made the 700 MHz band available for 5G. The band, originally used to provide terrestrial television services, was auctioned for mobile broadband in 2015 and approved for use in July 2019 (GSA 2019). This change in designation was in line with the European Union (EU) obligations to free up the 700 MHz for use by 5G by the end of June 2020. The EU deadline for the 700 MHz band is an example of a regionally coordinated effort, which can help advance the 5G deployment timeline and improve interoperability in neighbouring countries.

Using HAPS to support expanded connectivity

Overview of the technology

HAPS is a growing technology which seeks to expand access to wireless connectivity. It consists of radio stations located in the stratosphere between 20 and 50 kilometres above the Earth’s surface (ITU 2016). Its applications support other terrestrial technologies with potential to expand connectivity and telecommunications services in rural and remote areas. HAPS can serve as a tool to extend the reach of existing terrestrial networks, and to provide higher quality service to already connected areas as well as connectivity during emergency situations.

Source: TMG.

Spectrum needs

HAPS applications can have frequency bands either authorized directly to its provider or to an existing partner telecommunications operator, such as a mobile network operator (MNO). One of the outcomes of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) was the identification of several new frequency bands for use by HAPS applications, such as the 31-31.3 GHz, 38-39.5 GHz, 47.2-47.5 GHz, and 47.9-48.2 GHz bands worldwide; and the 21.4-22 GHz and 24.25-27.5 GHz bands in the Americas (ITU 2019).

Country examples

As the provision of broadband connectivity through HAPS is a new technology, the existing deployments have mostly been on a trial basis. In March 2020, Kenya authorized the use of HAPS to support the connectivity in the country. While deployment had been planned for several months, some challenges had originally delayed final approvals (Pham 2020). Those approvals were accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which emphasized the importance of expanding access to connectivity.

This case shows the importance of flexible regulatory frameworks that account for new and growing applications. Based on the potential for HAPS to expand connectivity to rural and underserved areas, as well as the applications for emergency response in disaster areas, regulators are invited to consider measures to enable the benefits of HAPS technology, including:

Experimental Licences
Providing an opportunity for providers to test their technology on a trial basis can incentivize more rapid deployment of new technologies such as HAPS.

Enabling National Regulation
While taking into consideration the international regulations, there should be regulatory flexibility in existing or new national frameworks for the provision of HAPS to support telecommunications services.

Streamlined Procedures
Regulators should ensure that there are simple processes for providers to implement technologies that help expand connectivity, including an efficient timeline for regulatory approvals.

Source: TMG.

Growth of NGSO satellite networks

Overview of the technology

NGSO satellite systems are being used to provide connectivity in areas not currently reached by terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure. These systems are usually comprised of hundreds or even thousands of satellites that have the potential to increase the use of satellite services in remote and underserved areas.

Spectrum needs

NGSO satellite systems present some spectrum management challenges, in terms of balancing the use of the different frequency bands and allowing GSO and NGSO satellite systems to operate simultaneously, while mitigating the risk of harmful interference.

The WRC-19 agreed on a framework for the use of NGSO on the following frequency bands: 37.5-39.5 GHz (space-to-Earth), 39.5-42.5 GHz (space-to-Earth), 47.2-50.2 GHz (Earth-to-space) and 50.4-51.4 GHz (Earth-to-space). This allows NGSO satellites to operate alongside GSO satellite systems and other terrestrial services.

Regulatory examples

In order to foster the deployment of NGSO satellite systems, regulators can adapt the existing frameworks for GSO systems as necessary. The licensing and earth station requirements for both systems are largely the same. One regulatory requirement particular to NGSO systems is determining when a network is considered to be deployed. At WRC-19, a milestone based approach was agreed for the regulation of new NGSO satellite systems.

Under the newly adopted framework, these systems will have to deploy 10 per cent of their constellation within two years after the end of the current regulatory period for bringing into use, 50 per cent within five years, and complete the deployment within seven years. Regulators should consider these international standards when bringing national regulation into effect.

The implementation of NGSO systems require a broader review of regulatory requirements. For example, the coordination process may need to be updated, as systems are often authorized in the national level while their international coordination is not yet complete. Furthermore, there needs to be transparency in terms of use of spectrum by others to facilitate market access. Questions that go beyond spectrum also include the review of the station licences to facilitate blanket licensing on a national level for terminals and, by consequence, the overall deployment of NGSO systems.

Connectivity technologies advancing the use of the IoT

Overview of the technology

Increased connectivity and capacity introduced by technologies that use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum are fostering the development of more connected devices as part of the IoT ecosystem. There has been an increasing number of IoT devices in use, reaching 22 billion connected devices worldwide at the end of 2018 (Mercer 2019). As they increase in number, the use of IoT devices is becoming more common in everyday life. Many IoT connected devices are used for consumer applications. For example, a connected thermostat can allow a user to monitor and control the temperature of their home while they are away.

Source: TMG.

In addition to consumer use cases, public applications are also being implemented by smart cities around the world. For example, the city of Los Angeles in the United States has implemented IoT technology to monitor and control traffic flow across the city using road-surface sensors and closed-circuit television cameras. To further automate the traffic control system and take advantage of the massive amount of data being generated, the city is looking to add automated traffic light adjustments that can react to changing traffic conditions in real time (Grizhnevich 2018).

Spectrum needs

The success of both consumer and public applications of different IoT technologies is reliant on effective and efficient management of the frequency bands on which these objects can connect. IoT devices can operate in a variety of frequency ranges, both in licensed and unlicensed spectrum bands.

The spectrum requirements of the various segments of the growing IoT landscape depend on the use-case specific to their application. For example, connections for use by industrial automated robots are more latency-sensitive than those for connected kitchen appliances. The spectrum requirements for these applications vary accordingly. In the context of a smart city, automated vehicles for public transportation would require high-capacity, low latency connectivity. However, dispersed sensors that monitor air pollution would have less restrictive needs.

Country examples

At the national level, countries are working to incorporate IoT systems to gather, analyse, and utilize data for the public good.

Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is an example of a framework that identifies uses of IoT for government services, transportation, energy efficiency, and other applications. As part of the initiative, the government created the Smart Nation Sensor Platform, which uses remote monitoring to identify issues and alert relevant government offices. One application supported by the platform is the use of smart water meters to monitor and regulate water use around the country. Another example is the use of computer vision to detect drownings in public pools and alert nearby lifeguards. The country is also beginning to implement a “lamp post-as-a-platform” program, which uses sensors on lamp posts around the country to monitor air quality, rainfall, and water level. The initiative also has an aspect called Virtual Singapore that uses systems to identify smoking in prohibited areas, littering from high-rise buildings, crowd density, as well as movement of registered vehicles.

Spain has also fostered the development of smart cities, and in some cases the local government has played a substantial role. In Santander, the city deployed sensor to monitor metrics like traffic, energy use, and parking. They also made some of this data easily available to citizens through an app. Barcelona has implemented smart energy systems such as lights that respond to movement in public areas, parking sensors that identify open spaces, garbage sensors, and automated waste collection.

At the national level, regulators can encourage the deployment of smart cities and IoT technologies by supporting public and private projects that utilize the technology. To do that, spectrum must be appropriately managed to balance the frequency requirements of the sensors, devices, and applications that drive the IoT ecosystem.

The evolution of Wi-Fi

Overview of the technology

Wireless network technologies will be critical to the implementation of connected devices and the advancement of the IoT ecosystem. Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies operate in unlicensed spectrum and can transmit in a relatively wide range of frequencies. These technologies play an important role in the connectivity ecosystem by transmitting information to and from mobile terminals, sensors, and other connected devices. Wi-Fi works in cooperation with other technologies by providing a connection point for users with terrestrial and satellite networks. For example, Wi-Fi can be incorporated into 5G networks to enhance capacity and gaps in connectivity (Hetting 2019).

Spectrum needs

While Wi-Fi technology has been in use for over two decades, newer versions of the technology have allowed local area networks to operate in numerous new frequencies. In addition to the previous use of the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, newer iterations of Wi-Fi technology have been developed to be used in parts or totality of the 60 GHz (57-66 GHz) and 6 GHz (5 925-7 125 MHz) bands.

Source: TMG.

Country examples

Several countries have considered making more spectrum available for unlicensed use, including the 6 GHz band. For example, in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules for the 6 GHz band, making available 1 200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed use (FCC 2020). In the coming years regulators will need to be mindful of the competing spectrum needs of licensed and unlicensed technologies.

In summary

Key findings: technology innovations driving new spectrum demand

  • Regulators should consider how new technologies will impact the demand for different frequency ranges when allocating and assigning spectrum at the national level.
  • 5G deployment will require a combination of low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies, increasing demand for many spectrum bands with different levels of incumbent use.
  • Connectivity technologies like HAPS and NGSO satellite systems have the potential to bring high-speed connectivity services to remote and underserved areas. Regulators should ensure that the necessary regulatory framework, including spectrum availability, is in place for these services.
  • IoT and Wi-Fi enabled devices may operate in unlicensed frequencies and will be critical for applications such as smart cities. Regulators should weigh the relative benefits of licensed and unlicensed spectrum use when making frequency assignments.
  • While new applications will increase the demand for spectrum, newer technologies like 5G also have the potential to make the use of spectrum more efficient.


European 5G Observatory. 2019. “German 5G Auction Ends with 6.55 Billion EUR in Total Bids.” 5G Observatory, June 14, 2019.

Grizhnevich, A. 2018. “IoT for Smart Cities: Use Cases and Implementation Strategies.” ScienceSoft CIO Blog, May 3, 2018.

GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association). 2019. Global Spectrum for 5G – Licensing Worldwide. July 2019 Update.

Hetting, C. 2019. “KT Korea & Tessares Successfully Test 5G & Wi-Fi Convergence: Wi-Fi NOW, October 2, 2019.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union) 2016. Radio Regulations. Geneva: ITU.

ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2019. “WRC-19 Identifies Additional Frequency Bands for High Altitude Platform Station Systems.” ITU News, November 22, 2019.

Mercer, D. 2019. Global Connected and IoT Device Forecast Update. Strategy Analytics.

Pham, M. 2020. “Alphabet Loon Project Yet to Fly in Kenya.” Mobile World Live, March 30, 2020.

FCC (Federal Communications Commission). 2020. “FCC Adopts New Rules for the 6 GHz Band, Unleashing 1,200 Megahertz of Spectrum for Unlicensed Use.” FCC News, April 23, 2020.

Last updated on: 19.01.2022
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