Speaking at the 5G North America conference here, Preston Marshall, engineering director at Google’s parent company Alphabet, said that there has to be an end to the current spectrum model in which wireless operators pay billions for spectrum licenses so that they can deploy infrastructure and build networks. “People pay more for spectrum than they do for infrastructure,” Marshall said, adding that the model is not sustainable and does not promote any innovation.
“If spectrum is exclusive in 5G, you have no market,” he added.
Marshall instead advocates for a neutral-host deployment, where network operators, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), and even enterprises can share the cost of the network, allowing for new types of business models. “All four carriers could use this band as well as an MVNO,” he said. “Private networks could also be in this spectrum band.”
Of course, Marshall’s comments are not that surprising given that Google has been a vocal advocate for shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band and is a founding member of the CBRS Alliance, which touts using shared spectrum to expand indoor and outdoor coverage and capacity.
Google also has a lot at stake with 3.5 GHz. The company in August asked the FCC for permission to conduct experiments in the 3.5 GHz band in up to 24 cities in the U.S., including San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado, and Provo, Utah, according to Business Insider.
But joining the alliance doesn’t necessarily translate to an endorsement of the shared-spectrum model. Brian Daly, director of core network and government regulatory at AT&T, said during a panel presentation here that AT&T’s goal in joining the CBRS Alliance was to see how the shared spectrum model would work and determine whether it was feasible.
Background on 3.5 GHz Spectrum
Last April, the FCC adopted rules that allow 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band to be opened up for commercial use, and the FCC is allowing both unlicensed and licensed users in the band. Unlicensed operators will have access to many frequencies without having to bid on spectrum.
But as Monica Paolini, founder and president of Senza Fili consulting firm, points out, the 3.5 GHz range is already in use – primarily by federal incumbents like the Department of Defense. To avoid conflict, the FCC is requiring companies that want to use this spectrum to deploy a shared access spectrum (SAS) system that will manage the spectrum and avoid any interference issues.