In an insightful report released today and titled "Spectrum Allocation in the United States," Accenture examined current use and future demands for spectrum. Accenture called attention to the small amount of mid-band spectrum dedicated to commercial wireless use compared to the amount being used by the federal government. As 5G networks grow and mobile data usage continues to sharply increase, a larger stock of spectrum will be needed for licensed commercial wireless use. Notably, Accenture identifies three band candidates for spectrum repurposing – the lower 3 GHz band, the 4 GHz band, and the 7/8 GHz band – that could supply needed for licensed use by 5G wireless services.
Among the most eye-opening aspects of Accenture's report is massive amount of spectrum that currently under the control of the federal government and the comparatively small amount that is available for licensed commercia wireless use. Accenture found that 61% of all lower mid-band spectrum – located between 3 GHz and 8.4 GHz – or 3,300 MHz is dedicated to government use. By comparison, 1,910 MHz is available for unlicensed use and just 270 MHz (about 5% at present) is available for licensed commercial wireless use. In its report, Accenture found that the federal government has access to about 12 times more lower mid-band spectrum than commercial wireless services.
Spectrum in the 3-to-8.4 GHz range is particularly ideal for 5G services. Yet the supply of that spectrum for licensed commercial wireless use is lagging. Accenture rightly calls it a "deficit" in spectrum allocation for commercial wireless services, as GSMA has projected that mobile data traffic per smartphone user will increase 3.6 times in North America by 2027. That is an increase from about 15GB per smartphone user per month in 2021 to 52GB per user in 2027. Significantly increased spectrum supply is needed to accommodate 5G services, including Fixed wireless access (FWA) services that can help close up the digital divide and industrial connections.
Accenture's report hones in on three promising bands that can be repurposed to furnish spectrum resources that will enable Americans to realize the full potential of 5G: the 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band, the 4.4 to 4.49 GHz band, and the 7.125 to 8.46 GHz band. When combined with about 180 MHz of C-band spectrum that is expected to go into commercial wireless services at the end of 2023, those bands could yield upwards of 1,600 MHz of spectrum for licensed commercial wireless services.
Be sure to check out Accenture's report on U.S. spectrum allocation.