MWC 2022: Industry body urges affordable spectrum release

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GSM Association director-general Mats Granryd.
GSM Association director-general Mats Granryd.

GSM Association (GSMA) director-general Mats Granryd has encouraged governments to release and assign spectrum in a timely manner and at affordable prices.

This, as South Africa prepares to release spectrum for the first time in over a decade.

The mobile industry body’s DG made this call during his opening keynote at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 yesterday, highlighting the opportunities that exist with the release of spectrum, including 5G adoption.

“So far, almost 80% of 5G launches have been carried out in the mid-band spectrum, which is vital for city-wide coverage. But it will be the millimetre wave spectrum that provides the fastest data speeds in densely populated areas, like campuses, industrial parks and sports arenas.”

GSMA-run global mobile connectivity conference MWC Barcelona 2022 officially returned yesterday as an in-person event in host city Barcelona, Spain.

This year’s theme is “Connectivity Unleashed” and aims to showcase the power of mobile technology in people’s everyday lives, and explore the ground-breaking technologies that will shape industry and society, he said.

“If decades ago we imagined self-driving and AI [artificial intelligence] all based on connectivity, what are we imagining today? Whatever is imagined today will become a reality tomorrow, I can promise you that.”

During his keynote speech, Granryd pointed out he would like to address industry leaders and policy-makers on a number of subjects, including climate action, mobile connectivity and innovation.

Mobile connectivity has a massive enablement effect; for example, on climate action, he stated. “During COP26, I called on business leaders and policy-makers to use smart technology to achieve net-zero by 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“We don’t need to wait − these technologies already exist today − but they are still very underused by energy-intensive industries, like energy, transport, buildings and manufacturing.

“If we start to use mobile technology in those four industries, we will enable global savings of around 11 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2030. That is equivalent to roughly 40% of the total required reduction. It is the same as decommissioning around 2 700 coal-fired power plants.”

Tomorrow’s leaders are understanding and mobilising 5G, said Granryd. “By the end of last year, close to 180 mobile operators in 70 markets around the world had launched commercial 5G services. The future belongs to this generation, working in high-growth industries like smart cities, health tech, fin tech, prop tech, sports tech, etc. As a proof point, mobile traffic grew by more than 40% last year. That is just the beginning.”

In terms of the era of intelligent connectivity, which is often described as the combination of 5G, AI, IOT and big data, Granryd said there will be one billion 5G connections globally by the end of this year. “5G is a frontier area of growth with lots of opportunities, and governments and policy-makers must be informed and encouraged to support the rapid and sustainable growth of 5G.”

For the people that are not yet using mobile internet, Granryd said the mobile industry can deliver inclusion and prosperity that is fair and safe for all.

“Today, just under half of the world’s population is not connected online. That’s 3.7 billion people, and it’s made up of 450 million people that live in outside areas that are not covered with that mobile broadband – we call that the coverage gap.

“The 3.2 billion people that live within, beneath mobile broadband coverage but are not yet using mobile internet, we call that the usage gap.

“The good news is that the coverage gap is being reduced. Over the last five years, 1.4 billion more people have been covered with mobile broadband. Now, only the 450 million remains.”

However, Granryd stated the usage gap that consists of 3.2 billion people has hardly shifted. “Affordability, skills and lack of content are all really important factors. Gender plays a big role too – those who are unconnected are more likely to be less educated, in rural areas and women.

“For many people, mobile is the only way to get online, so training is obviously very necessary, especially as the pandemic has accelerated growth in every dimension.”

Granryd urged public and private partners to invest at the same level as the mobile industry to bring the benefits of mobile internet to more people.

South Africa’s allocation of spectrum has been up in the air for a number of years, with the last significant spectrum awarded 16 years ago. The last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment.

Unlike its African counterparts, SA is one of the few countries that have not allocated 4G/LTE spectrum on the continent. This has forced local operators to improvise, with spectrum re-farming and carrier aggregation.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) lengthy spectrum auction process has encountered ongoing challenges, with some mobile operators being at odds with the regulator over its roadmap to license the spectrum this month.

After months of drawn-out negotiations, ICASA announced last month that Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Rain Networks and Liquid Intelligent Technologies have all passed the pre-qualification stage of the spectrum licensing process.

The six telcos have cleared the first hurdle and can participate in the planned auction stage this month.

Access to high‐demand spectrum will help mobile operators provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services. On the consumer front, it would mean making affordable data available to firms and households.

For government, the allocation of spectrum is at the forefront of its economic reforms, with the national fiscus set to benefit in excess of R8 billion from the proceeds of the auction.

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