Sub-3GHz spectrum continues to be an important topic for the telecoms industry, but addressing it is becoming increasingly urgent as operators face rising data demand with limited resources.
At the 13th Huawei Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Bangkok, delegates again met to collaborate on the ultimate goal of global ubiquitous connectivity. Huawei alongside industry members highlighted the importance of sub-3GHz spectrum and innovative solutions to deliver widespread and quality connectivity globally. “Ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, green and intelligence” were the hot topics of the discussion.
GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair painted a bright landscape for operators. Sinclair proudly announced, “5G has broken records in being the fastest-growing connectivity standard since the industry began”. Sinclair also pointed to specific use cases that are “driving the need” for sub-3GHz bands and in turn drive evolution to advanced 5G, such as edge computing, extended reality XR, and reduced capability services (RedCap). “If you want to get the maximum benefits of 5G rollout, we should need all spectrum we can get and we definitely need to take full advantage of mid-band and low-band,” said Sinclair.
Next to speak at the summit was Ashish Narayan, the ITU Asia-Pacific programme coordinator, who called for more government collaboration to drive universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformations as this in turn drives economic development. He pointed out there are three key challenges to connectivity at the moment: delivering meaningful connectivity, and closing both the coverage gap and the usage gap.
Sub-3GHz evolution, all bands stride for a leading 5G network
True’s Associate Director of RAN planning and optimisation, Sukrawan Rojanasaksotorn said in her speech True’s 5G network connects all 77 provinces of Thailand, with more than 99% population coverage in major cities. “We aim to maximize sub-3GHz value and improve 3dB coverage in all bands, ensuring 5G consistent experience from outdoor to indoor.” She also pointed out that 8T8R is expected to be the trend and has been deployed by True, resulting in an increase of up to 1.8x in network quality and capacity in their latest trial results.
Telefonica Group manager of wireless Carlos Lopez Calvo kicked off by showcasing the telecoms giant’s successful RAN strategy which tapped massive MIMOs and aided it in being more energy efficient. He detailed that FDD spectrum was vital for indoor coverage in suburban and rural areas, and the company found positive results in moving from mid-band 4T4R to 8T8R, with the latter being more environmentally friendly as a bonus as this is the benefit of wideband and multi-antennas.
A key challenge for all operators is the constant assessing of cost to benefit when rolling out and configuring cell sites, noted Calvo, considering the leap in technology advancement and 5G device penetration. Multi-band evolution is beneficial to maximize spectrum value. This will bring more efficient carrier aggregation to achieve global 1st 5G 3CC CA, in which single user throughput reaches 1.7Gbps. Calvo added FDD bands will be the fundamental layer for 5G, lower bands can be tapped into through ultra-wideband 4T4R. Additionally, cell sites have increased by 30% energy efficiency by reducing six boxes to two, and this led to a boost in connections on 4G and 5G.
Indonesian operator XL Axiata’s Group Head of Technology Strategy and Assurance, Kustanto, noted data traffic growth surged 25% to 30% year-on-year in 2022 for the operator. It is a trend that is expected from operators globally as more advanced services launch, but the data increase did not grow in line with network capacity. Kustanto pointed out that one solution was optimising current spectrum and leveraging new technologies to improve spectrum efficiency. The company began using Huawei’s 8T8R to boost capacity, reducing energy consumption by 26% and saving cost per GB.
Argentina Telecom highlighted how, like all other operators globally, it is dealing with the challenge of high capex and opex as it upgrades from 4G to 5G. To achieve this, the operator tapped into equipment that is sustainable and energy efficient. Carlos Bardon, Network Planning Manager, said: “We needed to increase the capacity in our network to follow our strategy. Some months ago, we finished a trial with dual-band 8T8R RRU. The result was very good as we obtained a 40% traffic increase and a boost to user experience. Another important thing is that we continue with the deployment of massive MIMO in FDD and we employ that technology to increase the capacity in higher density areas.”
China Telecom Shanghai has had a different journey from most operators, as it faces the challenge of operating in an advanced multi-gigabit city. “The next step in high-speed 5G network construction is to deliver wider, deeper, and truly ubiquitous coverage. The coverage will be wider and deeper from urban to nationwide areas, and from deep indoors to outdoors,” said China Telecom Shanghai wireless director Lu Heng. “Multi-band synergy technologies deliver better 5G user experience, and fully harness the value of the 3.5GHz and 2.1GHz spectrums.”
Turkcell radio network Associate Director Mustafa Karakoc warned: “Because of increasing data demands, mobile sites are getting much more complex and you need to simplify especially before launching 5G”. The company upgraded from Huawei’s 4T6S solution to its 8T8R aerials which gained it capacity in the 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz airwaves and led to energy savings of 15%.
Algeria Telecom Mobile (Mobilis), has a large population to serve with over 47 million subscribers, which CEO Chaouki Boukhazani compares to a small continent. “We have to adopt new solutions and technologies that empower the 5G market and for business success.” Mobilis is now deploying 8T8R in all provinces of Algeria to gain market share over the next two years, and achieve a throughput of 50Mbps. Meanwhile, by adopting massive MIMO, we overcame the mountainous challenge of covering a large landmass to gain the best coverage in a relatively short period of time,” Boukhazani added.
Finally, Mohamed Madkour, VP of Huawei global carrier network solutions and marketing, spoke at length about latest Huawei’s FDD all scenarios products and solutions. New ultra-wideband RRU supports simplified multi-band network deployment and millisecond-level power sharing across all carriers, bands, and RATs, which reduces power consumption while ensuring legacy GSM, UMTS coverage. For single-pole scenarios, Huawei’s FDD BladeAAU solution, which is the industry’s first to combine FDD Massive MIMO AAUs and Sub-3GHz passive antennas. It allows for simple deployment on one pole. Huawei has also launched the RuralLink solution that is designed for remote areas, with a simplified design and ultra-low power consumption.
Madkour emphasised that: “For the evolution of technologies in the future, we will continue with our current approach of pursuing ultra-wideband, multi-antenna and intelligent technologies to deliver ultimate user experience, reduce carriers’ cost and contribute to achieving green and carbon emission goals.”
The Sub-3GHz FDD Gigaband Whitepaper was released in the last session of the summit. This whitepaper analyses the development of remote radio units — core parts of base stations — and explains the current status and technical challenges of continually evolving sub-3GHz bands towards green, simplified, and high-performing networks. It also explores the trends for the evolution of sub-3GHz and ultra-wideband, multi-antenna technologies, providing a valuable reference for wireless regulators, mobile operators, consulting analysts, and equipment manufacturers.
“To resolve the conflict between the limited sites, spectrum resources and increasing capacity demand, the complexity growing out of more RATs, more bands, and the goal of energy saving, the only way out is to pursue innovation towards ultra-wideband, multi-antenna, green and intelligent technologies,” said Cao Ming, vice president of Huawei Wireless Network Product Line, in the opening speech.
Connectivity has not slowed down in its rapid development and we can see that clearly here. Operators are seeing more challenges to their bottom line as they race to keep up with the never-ending desire for advanced connectivity. Operators need more access to spectrum bands, particularly those in sub-3GHz to support their 5G ambitions, and this will take much industry collaboration to achieve.
Operators can also prepare by tapping into innovative solutions that are sustainable and future-proof, while also not too damaging to the bottom line. This will contribute to the ultimate goal of the industry, that is – ubiquitous connectivity. Developing Telecoms