The sharing of new mobile broadband wireless spectrum bands in the future among different operators will not generate enough cash for economies, according to a report commissioned by the mobile operators' trade body.
Ahead of this month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSMA has published a report written by Deloitte "indicating" that "shared spectrum can complement but in no way replaces the need for exclusive-access spectrum in the provision of mobile broadband".
The report, “The Impacts of Licensed Shared Use of Spectrum”, highlights "how shorter terms, build obligations, lack of certainty and small allocations can significantly reduce the likelihood of a mobile operator to invest".
This means, says the report, "that the potential economic benefits derived from spectrum sharing are ultimately lower than those achieved through exclusive-access spectrum" - operators having their own exclusive spectrum bands to provide services.
To save on costs, UK mobile operators and others around the world already share infrastructure, like phone masts and cables in the ground linking those masts and some control centres.
But the GSMA claims it is not a good idea to share spectrum bands to deliver services to users. “The GSMA commends efforts by regulators around the world to rapidly find a solution for the current spectrum crunch,” said Tom Phillips, chief regulatory officer at GSMA.
“While sharing schemes could provide a complementary approach to ease rapidly growing demand for spectrum, exclusive access to spectrum for mobile use is the optimal regulatory approach, providing the necessary market certainty to stimulate investments in networks and services.”
The report is based on a model that assesses the prospective value of two potential "licensed shared access scenarios" - the release of 50MHz in the European Union in the 2.3GHz band from 2020 and of 100MHz in the 3.5GHz band in the US in 2016.
The report says that in the European Union case, exclusive licensed spectrum in the 2.3GHz band could add €86 billion (£76.7 billion) to the EU’s economy in the period 2016-2030.
It claims shared licensing could sharply reduce economic benefits to only €70 billion or as little as €5 billion, "due to a lack of common approach in spectrum allocation across the member states", combined with "significant geographic and timing exclusions as well as potential contracting limitations".
For the US, exclusive spectrum licensing in the 3.5GHz band would add $260 billion to the US economy, claims the report. But in the case that sharing terms "strictly limit the use of spectrum by mobile operators", this value would be sharply reduced to US $210 billion or as little as $7 billion.
The report also claims the release of exclusive-access spectrum for mobile broadband offers wider socio-economic benefits for the US and European Union over the period 2016-2030, including future job creation. It is estimated that the deployment of mobile broadband would generate around 2.1 million jobs in the US and nearly 1.6 million jobs in the EU across this period.
"To attract investment and reap the full economic benefits of mobile broadband, regulators need to provide access to a critical mass of spectrum,” said Phillips.
“For the EU and US, this can be achieved through the harmonisation of bands, on similar contractual terms and conditions, as well as limited geographic and timing exclusions," he said.
"For these reasons, shared spectrum is not a substitute for exclusive-access spectrum, and governments and regulators should not fully rely on shared spectrum for the provision of mobile broadband in the future.”
Asked why the report, opposing government plans, had been done in the first place, a GSMA spokeswoman told ComputerworldUK: "Because spectrum management has many facets - including issues such as interference, spectrum auctions and license processes - the GSMA contributes on behalf of mobile operators to the work of regulators with market projections, analysis, regulatory guidance and policy recommendations based on objective data and recognised best practice."
And when asked whether the report covering potential spectrum releases in 2020 or 2016 was really relevant to mobile broadband business users and consumers, the spokeswoman said: "It’s a fact that people are consuming more and more rich content over mobile networks, and this is happening globally.
"To meet this explosion in demand, mobile operators need more spectrum. Sufficient, internationally harmonised spectrum - and on the right scheme - is essential to ensuring the quality of service that consumers and businesses have come to expect, and rely on, from mobile networks."
She said:"This report finds that there is an even wider affect for the economy, given the difference in economic benefits of moving to an exclusive licensed access scheme."