On May 14, 2019, the European Commission (EC) adopted an implementing decision to harmonize the 26GHz band. This is the third "pioneer band" for 5G in the EU's Action Plan, after 3.6GHz and 700MHz. All pioneer bands are technology and service neutral so while they are 5G-suitable, operators are not obligated to use these frequencies solely for this purpose.
The deployment of 5G networks requires the timely availability of a sufficient amount of spectrum across a combination of low, mid, and high bands. Millimeter wave spectrum in particular is expected to be critical in deploying the highest speed and lowest latency 5G wireless services. However, it has generally been used by non-cellular applications up until now and this makes spectrum allocation challenging. On May 14, 2019, the EC enacted an implementing decision to harmonize radio spectrum in the 26GHz band across the EU for use on 5G networks. This is the third pioneer band for 5G in the EU's Action Plan, after 3.6GHz and 700MHz.
Following the implementing decision, EU member states can set common technical conditions which will need to ensure spectrum usage by multiple 5G networks is possible, while mitigating interference and ensuring compatibility with incumbent radio services (such as satellite) within the 26GHz band and in adjacent bands. Subsequently, regulators will be able to authorize the use of the 26GHz band for 5G by December 31, 2020, in line with the European Electronic Communications Code. Prior to this, member states will be expected to make the 700MHz band available to mobile services by mid-2020 and the 3.6GHz band available by the end of 2020.While the 26GHz band is 5G-suitable, the EC's spectrum decisions are always technology and service neutral, so operators will not be restricted in the use of this band or any other pioneer bands.
The 26GHz band offers the highest amount of spectrum and so has the largest capacity of all three EU pioneer bands. Harmonizing this band across the region, therefore, can enable ultra-high wireless broadband speeds due to significant improvement in the amount of available bandwidth. The aim will be for the 26GHz band to support the EU's move toward gigabit-speed wireless broadband. It seems likely that the first services deployed in the 26GHz band will be enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services for high-capacity fixed wireless access (FWA); high-definition video communications; and virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. It is also expected that 5G operators' gradual adoption of this band will initially focus on congested hotspots, major transport paths, and industrial sites.
Several European countries are already ahead of the game. Portugal, Belgium, and Norway, for example, have conducted consultations on the allocation of the 26GHz band. ComReg in Ireland, on the other hand, concluded the 26GHz Spectrum Award in April 2018, which saw 19 lots of 2×28MHz auctioned off for €1.25m ($1.39m) in upfront fees and €3.75m ($4.18m) in spectrum usage fees over 10 years. Italy also completed its auction in October 2018, which saw five operators win 200MHz of spectrum each for a total of €163.7m ($182.5m).
Spectrum Auction Tracker: 2018, GLB005-000094 (October 2018)
5G Service Provider Tracker: 1Q19, GLB007-000226 (April 2019)
"Despite previous threats of a boycott, Italy's 5G spectrum auction already sees sales top €5bn," GLB005-000093 (September 2018)
Sarah McBride, Analyst, Regulation