5G Mobile Broadband: Spectrum Challenges for Rural Regions
18 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 27, 2019
Wireless technologies offer potential advantages for extending broadband to rural regions because they do not require costly extension of optical fiber that requires trenching through difficult terrain that could include mountains, deserts, roadless expanses, and/or permafrost in the far North. Also usage is shifting from fixed to mobile, even in rural areas, as smart phones and other “smart” devices are becoming increasingly popular, and operators strive to provide additional bandwidth to cope with demand.
Wireless 5G (fifth generation) is currently considered the most promising technology to address the explosive growth in demand not only for consumer services but for public safety, remote monitoring, logistics, and other applications. Mobile 5G technology promises greatly increased bandwidth for mobile devices and potentially for other broadband services. Yet 5G presents challenges that may not only make it difficult to offer in rural areas, but may hinder the availability of other more cost-effective wireless solutions.
This paper examines the challenges of extending broadband to rural and remote regions, particularly as posed by 5G technology in terms of installation cost, availability of spectrum, and other factors that may influence availability and affordability of broadband in rural regions. It reviews proposals to transfer spectrum currently used for fixed terrestrial and satellite broadband to 5G, and implications for service availability, quality, and pricing. It also examines implications for existing community and rural WISPs (wireless internet service providers) and other entrepreneurs and organizations that may want to offer broadband in rural areas.
These issues are addressed through analysis of policy drivers to expedite investment in 5G (e.g. to keep up with other countries implementing 5G and to take advantage of purported economic benefits of 5G) and the resulting rush to reallocate spectrum for 5G. It includes a case study of current Canadian government efforts to reallocate spectrum for 5G from fixed satellite services, still critical for provision of communication services in the far North, as an example of how 5G spectrum policies may affect rural communities and small service providers.
The paper proposes criteria for reallocating rural spectrum that would not endanger current broadband delivery to rural and remote regions. It concludes with lessons from the case study and recommendations for policy makers facing the challenges of formulating policies for 5G within a context of commitments to provide universal access to broadband, including in rural unserved and underserved regions.
Keywords: 5G, mobile, rural, satellite, Alaska, Canada
JEL Classification: 018, 025, 033, 051
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation