Analyst Angle: Is C-Band the next frontier for 5G spectrum?

Cellular network performance is driven by top speeds and overall system capacity, and more is
always better. Telcos have three main ways to increase both network parameters that are so
vital for their business:
1. Deploy more spectrum through larger channels or using carrier aggregation to bring
spectrum together.
2. Improve spectral efficiency using new protocols, waveforms, and technologies,
including advanced modulation and coding schemes and higher-order MIMO.
3. Densify their networks by splitting existing cells or introducing small cells.
Although all three options enhance the performance of the system, there are pitfalls with the two
latter: protocol and technology improvements have already pushed the performance of current
cellular systems very close to the theoretical limit of the Shannon Theorem, while network
densification is usually a very expensive process, during which the distributed nature of the
deployment propels investment costs exponentially compared with typical macro cell
deployments. This leaves one viable option for telcos that has been exercised since the
deployment of 3G networks: acquire more spectrum at frequencies where wider channels can
be implemented.
Spectrum Is king, but for different reasons for each G
Thus far, the success of any cellular technology launch has been tightly driven by the telco’s
spectral acquisitions. For example, the success of early 3G deployments was driven by the
amount of spectrum each telco had acquired in the 2 GHz band. The overall performance was
dependent on these allocations of spectrum. The initial performance and speed of these early
networks was low, hence requiring large amounts of spectrum. Nevertheless, early 3G systems
exposed end users to the availability of mobile data and early smartphones seeded the mobile
market for better implementations of mobile broadband standards. Enhancements of the
WCDMA standard, namely HSDPA and HSPA+, improved the performance of the network with
additional features, including…

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