4G is in the process of being deployed across the country, but the mobile communications sector, from the business players to the spectrum managers, is already looking to the next generation of mobile systems, 5G. Due to be rolled out in 2020, its strategic orientations, in terms of technology, spectrum, partnerships and international harmonisation, are being decided now.
5G should allow for improvements in mobile communications in three areas:
- Increased capacity: theoretical data rates should reach 10 Gbps, 100 times faster than 4G, while 5G networks should carry 1,000 times more data than 4G. Every user should be able to enjoy an effective data rate of 100 Mbps, anywhere in the country and even when travelling at speeds up to 500 km/h.
- Scope for linking large numbers of connected objects to the network: this calls for protocols tailored to how these objects communicate, and in particular lightweight data exchanges for low bandwidth objects consuming very little energy;
- Access to more reliable, low-latency connections: this would mean networks could be used for critical applications such as driverless cars, industrial applications (robots) or telemedicine (surgery).
The issues of 5G thus intersect in part with those relating to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Today’s mobile networks use frequencies below 3 GHz. One of the new aspects of 5G will be its use of higher frequency ranges (known as “capacity bands”), particularly above 24 GHz. The 5th generation of mobile communications networks will still need lower frequency bands (known as “coverage bands”), however. As with previous generations of mobile networks, spectrum harmonisation will be important for 5G. The greater the harmonisation at European and even global level, the easier it will be for manufacturers to design products that can be used in many different countries, meaning greater economies of scale.
Industry experts do not expect 2G and 3G networks to be phased out before 2020 or even 2025. Many terminals will continue to find the possibilities offered by 2G adequate, and the technology may even attract renewed interest with a view to developing the Internet of Things using GPRS technology (for payment terminals in restaurants, for example). 3G networks, meanwhile, will continue to serve a purpose as long as the proportion of voice traffic remains high, given that few devices offer a voice service in 4G (VoLTE). Opinions differ, but it is possible that 2G networks will outlive 3G networks.
The authorisations issued by ARCEP to mobile operators for the three frequency bands used by the 2G and 3G networks expire in 2021. A number of players, mobile operators in particular, have mentioned the possibility, when the 2G and 3G networks start to be switched off, of ultimately creating a shared inter-operator 2G network, taking into account the lifetime of connected objects using GPRS technology.
ANFR will prepare the transfer to mobile communications of the 5G band, which runs from 3.4 to 3.8 GHz, the C band, identified by the RSPG as the primary band in Europe for the introduction of 5G by 2020. The Agency will contribute to the drawing up, at European level, of satisfactory harmonised technical conditions and the introduction, at national level, of specific measures to protect incumbent users of this and adjacent bands, i.e. satellite receiving earth stations, which will continue to receive in the 3.6 GHz to 3.8 GHz band, and radars operated by the French Ministry of Defence below 3.4 GHz.
ANFR will contribute at the European level to drawing up harmonised technical conditions and will provide mobile operators with access to resources in the L band, which offers very favourable propagation characteristics. The L band is currently occupied primarily by radio relay systems managed by ARCEP and by government applications, which will first need to be migrated.
ANFR will support harmonisation of the 26 GHz band as the pioneer band in Europe, identified by RSPG from the bands above 24 GHz under scrutiny for WRC-19. This harmonisation will also take into account the protection of incumbent users. The Agency will pay particular attention to the possibility of future installation of scientific services earth stations, which calls for reflection, at both national and European level, on the regulatory approach to be adopted.
ANFR will work with stakeholders concerned to find the best solution for shared use of the 2.3 GHz band. The Agency will seek a solution that protects current Ministry of Defence uses (aeronautical telemetry service, varying in its intensity in space and time) and provides satisfactory conditions for ARCEP and mobile operators. The technical conditions of shared use have been studied at national level and specifications are available for the purposes of experimentation. Depending on the interest shown by mobile operators in shared access to this band, ANFR will consider other uses (PPDR, PMR or IoT) that might be developed. In any event the Agency will work towards a European framework compatible with strategic decisions taken at national level.