The Netherlands doesn't keep to European agreement
For some considerable time, VodafoneZiggo has been making a plea for freeing up the 3.5 GHz band for 5G in the Netherlands without further delay. In his letter of December 2018 to the House of Representatives, however, the state secretary stated this would not be happening until September 2022. That is much later than in other European countries. In addition, it also means that the Netherlands will not keep to the European agreement to make the 3.5 GHz band available no later than year-end 2020. This is caused by two things. The satellite wiretap station of the intelligence services in Burum (Friesland) needs to be relocated because the rollout of 5G is expected to cause too much interference. And certain licences for local use of the 3.5 GHz band have already been granted, which for now obstruct the band becoming widely available for 5G.
5G without 3.5 GHz is no genuine 5G
A late introduction of a full-fledged and efficient 5G means that in the meantime additional investments in the 4G network will be necessary to handle the increasing data usage. It also means that users will not benefit from the advantages that 5G brings until much later. That is a bitter pill for providers and their customers to swallow. For the sake of clarity: technically, it is possible to launch a 5G network without 3.5 GHz. It can be done by using the existing 4G spectrum or the new 700 MHz band. But it will not offer the promised ‘Gigabit’ speeds, the high capacity to serve a multitude of users simultaneously, nor the other advantages like low latency and network access guarantees.
Acceleration still possible
Although the decision in principle has been taken to relocate 'Burum', it is yet unclear if this will happen and when this process will be completed. The government has appointed a special envoy to liaise with other countries. Furthermore and in our view, the ministry should encourage the current licensees to migrate to another frequency band sooner, for example by offering compensation for loss. There has to be an ambition to free up as much 3.5 GHz spectrum for 5G as possible by the end of 2020. The auction can then possibly be combined with the already planned multi-band auction which is to take place at the end of 2019 or early 2020.
More spectrum to mobile operators
In the 3.5 GHz frequency band a total bandwidth of 400 MHz will become available, i.e. between 3,400 and 3,800 MHz. The cabinet intends to make only 200 MHz available in 2022, with another 100 MHz in 2026. The government intends to reserve the remaining 100 MHz for local licensees for company-specific applications. Since this is exactly what 5G will be enabling – services specifically tailored to individual users – we are of the opinion that it is more efficient to use a larger part of the 3.5 GHz spectrum for public 5G networks. For extremely specific applications private spectrum can be desirable, but in our view 40 MHz will sufficiently serve that purpose. In this way, 360 MHz will become available for public 5G networks. We therefore urge the Ministry of Economic Affairs to make a total bandwidth of 360 MHz available for 5G as soon as possible, so that the entire Netherlands can reap the benefits of this.
We call on the policymakers to seriously consider accelerating and extending the availability of 3.5 GHz for 5G. And thus make an effort to keep our digital lead. It is still possible…!
Matthias Sauder, Director Network Mobile VodafoneZiggo
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