Industry debates the art of the possible in 5G spectrum sharing
The US Department of Defense (DoD) released the responses to its September request for information (RFI) on how it might “lease” its spectrum and whether it should own and operate a domestic 5G network. Not surprisingly, most wireless industry players flatly rejected the notion of a “nationalized” 5G network – but some remained open to the possibility of some kind of partnership with the US military.
“DoD can best meet its needs by relying on commercial networks and partnering with a global carrier, such as AT&T, that can support DoD’s 5G operations in the US and around the globe,” AT&T wrote in its RFI response in October. The DoD released the responses earlier this month.
AT&T floated a number of interesting sharing scenarios that would allow AT&T to build a 5G network using the department’s spectrum while also providing American soldiers with access to 5G services.
“A key to the success of many of these approaches will be information sharing between DoD and the commercial telecom industry, in terms of system parameters and operational characteristics/behavior/usage and possibly dynamic data on system use,” AT&T explained in its filing. “RAN sharing, specifically a multi-operator core network (MOCN) and a multi-operator radio access network (MORAN), can be a highly effective means of spectrum sharing. Active RAN sharing, facilitated through MOCN and MORAN and 5G Network Slicing, allows both commercial service providers and private operators such as DoD to share RAN and spectral assets. This approach ensures that spectrum shared with the government is devoted specifically to government use when needed and can otherwise be made available for public consumption.”
Many of AT&T’s suggestions lined up with the proposals that Dish Network publicly released shortly after the DoD published its RFI. But AT&T’s suggestions don’t come as much of a surprise considering the operator won the US government’s FirstNet contract, which involves building a nationwide wireless network for American public-safety workers using 700MHz spectrum specifically set aside for the project
However, AT&T took a firm stance against the idea of the DoD “leasing” its spectrum. “There are serious policy, operational and legal issues with the DoD pursuing a spectrum leasing alternative,” the operator argued.
Verizon, T-Mobile weigh in
While AT&T outlined a number of options for the DoD, other carriers took a harder stance on the topic. For example, T-Mobile largely rejected the idea of sharing spectrum with the DoD, and instead argued the military should fully relinquish its excess spectrum holdings to commercial interests, as it has in the past.
“Any sharing of reallocated DoD spectrum should be as limited as possible and provide flexibility to allow commercial licensees to work cooperatively with DoD or other federal entities to maximize the efficient use of spectrum by all users,” T-Mobile wrote in its own October response to the RFI.
Meantime, Verizon offered similar comments, arguing that the DoD should be free to explore a variety of technologies in its pursuit of military-grade connectivity, but that it should ultimately release spectrum to the commercial industry for 5G.
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