Roger Nichols

Policy’s Impact on 5G: Why Keeping a Watchful Eye Matters

Blog Post created by Roger Nichols Employee on Feb 12, 2018

My first blog posts covering the myth and reality of 5G put everything in the framework of three intertwined drivers: Technology, Policy, and Business Model. If you ever had doubts about the impact of one of these elements on the other, consider what the ITU’s designation of the ISM bands, way back in the 1940’s, ultimately did for the microwave oven, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.


Today’s 5G environment is filled with critical policy issues. Some, like national and international spectrum policy, are obvious to us in the radio world. Some are more indirect, but could have more impact—such as local and regional covenants and zoning for network elements. Test and measurement solutions providers, including Keysight, must pay strict attention to governmental regulations to enable our customers to validate compliance with regulation. But we also need to consider our role in ensuring our customers’ success in navigating the less-direct facets of policy. Here are a few of my direct, and not-so-direct, favorites:


Spectrum Band and Bandwidth are set nationally by the various government bodies around the world with acronyms like Ofcom, FCC, MIC, MIIT, etc. Another critical acronym is the ITU (International Telecommunications Union)—a branch of the United Nations (UN) that sets international treaties in the world of spectrum harmonization. Recent examples include November’s Report and Order (R&O) from the US’ FCC (regarding 24 and 47GHz bands) and MIIT’s (China) request for comment on plans to use 3.5GHz and 4.9GHz bands. Also, the ITU will meet at the World Radio Conference 2019 (WRC-19) to try and harmonize what is feasible.


Zoning and real-estate: The most important facet of addressing coverage gaps and spectral efficiency in 5G, is the reduction of cell size. There are three major policy hurdles to achieving 5G reality:

  1. Placement of small cells: Most operators must negotiate small-cell placement with each municipality and often with individual neighborhoods, resulting in lengthy and costly negotiations and re-negotiations with many local governments. Mobile operator coalitions are lobbying for nationally consistent legal frameworks. A proposed law for this framework was recently vetoed by the governor of California.
  2. Management of backhaul: Linking new small cells to the core network requires a cable, which are rarely installed without considering additional “dark capacity” to future proof the situation. Every cable needs a trench or a position on a standing pole. The negotiations for the rights-of-way are as traumatic as those for placement of the cell. A representative of one US operator told me that more than half of the US national average cost of $100/foot for laying fiber is for negotiation and retention of these rights-of-way.
  3. Radio flux density: The IWPC event in Bristol, held this past November, was an eye-opener for me. The sum of various operators’ radio energy in many public areas in Europe are at the legal limit for flux density (a measure of radio energy). One example was central Brussels, currently at the limit of 61V/m (~3V/m per operator) averaged over 6 minutes. Adding a cell or coverage at an additional frequency band requires the operator to reduce the average power output of their existing system.


National Commerce: Among the interesting examples of this are the management of inter-operator competition and related areas of managing spectrum allocation. The drastic differences in how nationalities manage these can be illustrated with a few key examples:


Operator-count, within the range of “Wikipedia error,” consider the following table:

Country / RegionPopulation (Millions)Number of Mobile Cellular Operators
European Union500> 70


It may not be fair to group all the EU into one line on this table, but it does illustrate the vast difference in how EU policy has impacted the competitive landscape, which is a significant criticism from the major players in the industry.


Inter-operator spectrum allocation: The most impactful spectrum policy decision made in the mobile wireless industry was the FCC’s choice to auction the PCS spectrum in the early 2G days of the 1990’s. This approach, combined with “use it or lose it” policies, was copied in many nations resulting in legal and financial spectrum battles over the past 25 years. However, China and Japan have not implemented spectrum auction in any significant manner. But, while these governments apply other pressures to these entities, the operators do not have the “spectrum depreciation” line-item in their P&L statements.


The internet traffic generated by the leaked United States National Security Council document underscores the criticality of policy on our industry and how it impacts business management. Whether the US should nationalize its 5G network is up to the political pundits, but we at Keysight will carefully watch the discourse as we work with our customers and collaborators around the world to make 5G a global reality.