Dedicating 28GHz spectrum band to satellite services

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December 22, 2021

Satellite use case for 28GHz spectrum has high economic value

The 28GHz spectrum band (27.5-29.5GHz) is widely used by satellite operators to provide global fixed and mobile satellite broadband services. With the advent of IMT-2020 5G radio technologies, mobile operators are seeking spectrum to meet new technical requirements (including niche applications in mmWave). While the 26GHz band has been globally identified for 5G IMT by the ITU (WRC-19), the 28GHz band has been preserved for satellite services on a global basis by the ITU (WRC-15, WRC-19). Deviating from the globally agreed spectrum allocations by wholly or partially repurposing the 28GHz band for 5G may present adverse impacts (technical and economic), as countries seek to expand ubiquitous broadband access across land, sea and air with investments in Ultra High Throughput Satellites (HTS).

Economic benefits of 5G in mmWave are likely to be representative of the use cases that require localised high-capacity coverage. Few, if any, benefits of 5G mmWave are expected in underserved or unserved areas. This has significant implications for governments seeking to encourage economic growth in some targeted areas or to reduce the digital divide between communities. For Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries, this issue is crucial as most countries have more than 50% population living outside densely populated areas, representing at least two billion people. This study examines the socio-economic case for maintaining the 28GHz spectrum band for satellite services only.

Satellite is the most cost-effective option to address many universal coverage issues

Satellite provides links for mobile and broadband services, and access and satellite-powered connectivity for broadband services in underserved / unserved areas where populations do not have access to the same level of broadband available in urban areas.

Satellite is an affordable option for unserved and underserved communities

For the average data consumption in APAC of 10GB/month per user, hundreds of subscribers per cell in unserved and underserved areas can be brought online at an affordable cost. These scenarios are relevant for most unserved and underserved communities in APAC.

A large proportion of the APAC mobile broadband coverage gap can only be addressed by satellite

APAC has a mobile broadband coverage gap of about 200 million people, the majority being in highly populated countries with large populations beyond urban areas and difficult topography where it is economically unviable to lay terrestrial infrastructure. Assuming a gradual mobile coverage increase over a 10 year period into these unserved communities, we estimate that the demand will exceed 500Gbit/s by 2026 and reach about 2.8Tbit/s by 2030.

Satellite is the only option for enabling high-speed broadband applications for key global transportation sectors in urban and beyond urban areas

There is an increasing demand for high-speed connectivity for aviation and maritime. Implementation of data-centric applications is becoming a necessity in these sectors, as the industries seek to reduce costs through improved efficiency, increase revenues, comply with environmental targets and improve safety. The importance of FSS ESIM (Earth Stations in Motion) is a notable example where uninterrupted, ubiquitous and ‘always-on’ broadband is powering aircraft (gate-to-gate) and vessels (pier-to-pier) with seamless connectivity across the busiest airports and ports, located in major cities in APAC.

For example, our estimate of the potential direct benefits that could be achieved by shipping companies through high-speed broadband enabled applications on vessels, using a sample of 24 major global shipping companies, is between USD7.4 billion and USD11.6 billion for 2021-2025. Assuming cruise passengers return to pre-COVID‑19 levels by 2022 and cruise ship operators ensure that their vessels have the capability for delivering broadband access, potential broadband-enabled revenues could reach USD2 billion by 2024. Global revenues for aviation satellite communications were USD527 million in 2019.

Satellite offers a future-proof solution for connectivity beyond urban areas

Terrestrial microwave links used beyond urban areas typically use frequencies in the range of 5‑42GHz as these can support distances between 5-60km. However, these frequencies do not have sufficient capacity to meet the expected throughput of 5G cell sites and consumer data growth. As such, many communities in the APAC region will be left behind with limited network performance due to the terrestrial microwave bottleneck.

Satellite use case for 28GHz spectrum has high economic value

When re-planning spectrum bands international best practice is to examine alternative uses to identify which use maximises the value of that spectrum. The 28GHz spectrum band is currently assigned to satellite services, providing connectivity to ESIM applications and users without, or with insufficient, access to terrestrial services, particularly high-speed broadband services. These users could be in urban and beyond urban areas, on ships or in the air, and without satellite services utilising 28GHz the options for high-speed broadband are limited. Assessing the economic value of 28GHz for 5G must take into account the loss of value associated with removal of the arrangements for satellite services. This loss in value may have implications for national policy objectives as well as efforts to improve global trade. It therefore follows that the similar 26GHz band would have a higher value for 5G services than 28GHz, as it will cause no disruption to current and planned Ka-band satellite services which provide the highest capacity and performance in comparison to lower satellite bands (i.e. L-band, C-band and Ku-band).

Satellite plays a critical role in exploiting the potential of 5G

  • Providing supplementary capacity to terrestrial networks to offload traffic in peak traffic times
  • Carrying multicast traffic and caching of content on edge servers
  • Providing satellite broadband connectivity to moving platforms such as vessels, trains and airplanes and temporary disaster recovery networks.

Download the full report.