Jeanette Whyte, Head of Public Policy, APAC, GSMA

New data from GSMA Intelli­gence shows, for the first time, the specific economic impact of 5G using mid-band spectrum. The Asia-Pacific (APAC) re­gion is an early leader in 5G development and will use 5G connectivity as a powerful driver of GDP growth throu­ghout the decade. Mid-band 5G’s impact on the APAC economy will reach $285 billion in 2030, helped by early spectrum as­signments for 5G networks.

As the region seeks to emerge from the uncertain environment of the pandemic, mo­bile will continue to have a role to play in creating a brighter future. Productivity gains made in the 2010s, through the development of 4G, helped the world to teach, talk, carry out transactions and do business more efficiently. Today, these benefits are bound tightly into regional economies and a new phase of development can now come from the deep integration of 5G into our lives, societies and businesses.

A GSMA Intelligence report outlines how, with the right regulatory tools, 5G can become a central pillar of APAC economic development strategies. Its benefit to sectors such as manufacturing, services (inclu­ding healthcare and education), and public administration (including smart cities) can start a new wave of economic growth.

Spectrum capacity for GDP impact

Beyond the potential economic benefits, GSMA Intelligence also analysed the im­pact if the capacity needs of 2 GHz of mid-­band spectrum are not met. The analysis shows that if spectrum is constrained to its current assignments, up to 40 per cent of the economic impact could be lost.

If spectrum is limited to the current levels as demand for services grows, increased network congestion and dep­loyment costs will stifle 5G. Net­work quality and speed will suffer, limiting 5G adoption and its economic impact. On a global basis, constraining mid-band capacity can reduce the impact of 5G in 2030 from 0.68 per cent of the global GDP to 0.42 per cent.

An average of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum for mobile operators is required by 2030. This goal leaves a shortfall of 1.15 GHz beyond today’s average assignments in APAC. However, the region as a whole is starting to move closer to the 2 GHz figure, and as the 5G-leading markets in East Asia maximise the existing harmonised bands, mirroring this progress throughout the region is crucial.

The lack of licensed 6 GHz 5G in the region makes meeting mid-band capacity needs a challenge. The 6 GHz range delivers citywide capacity, providing the perfect en­vironment to expand 5G connectivity. Ex­tending the bandwidth of 5G through the harmonisation of 6 GHz spectrum will improve network performance, allowing businesses and economies to grow.

India’s digital revolution

5G has taken a big leap forward in India, thanks to the recent multiband auction allo­wing operators to begin roll-outs. Ser­vices are expected to launch in major cities across the country, with wider expansion by 2023. Setting the right spectrum policy will pave the way for new and innovative use cases ac­ross a range of sectors, which is critical for India’s – and the region’s – future.

Mobile operators throughout the country have been assigned mid- and high-band spectrum to roll out their 5G networks. This assignment has ensured sufficient ca­pa­­city to integrate 5G into the local economy, providing a clear vision that can maximise the socio-economic value of 5G for Indian society.

All three major operators – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea – ha­ve secured core 5G spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands, whilst new en­tra­nt the Adani Group has also succeeded in winning 26 GHz spectrum in selected areas of the country. 5G is now poised to play an important role in fulfilling the visi­on of a “Digital India”, worth nearly $455 billion over the next two decades.

While mid-band spectrum will drive the most economic benefits, the successful mmWave auction also bodes well. mm­Wave spectrum is essential for the de­plo­yment of high capacity, low latency 5G networks. It complements low- and mid-band spectrum implementations in dense urban areas and provides fibre-like connectivity through 5G fixed wireless access technologies.

Manufacturing delivers 5G promise

The manufacturing sector in India, in particular, is expected to benefit from 5G, as the country presents a rich environment of high-tech manufacturing companies that will rapidly integrate new 5G applications into their businesses.

It is well placed to take advantage of the expanding deployment of 5G, and the services and opportunities that will arise from pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity. Pre­dictive maintenance, machine vision and extended reality are a few of the wide range of 5G applications that manufacturing can exploit.

Mid-band spectrum also helps power innovation in sectors such as healthcare, education and public administration (in­clu­ding smart cities). Unleashing mid-bands can start a new wave of economic growth and industrial transformation.

The coming years will decide the extent to which 5G can deliver on its pro­mise. Spectrum is required to provide fast, affor­dable services. Governments and in­du­s­tries need to work together on this th­rough the World Radiocomm­unication Con­ference 2023 as well as national pro­cesses to ensure that 5G can power a new phase of economic growth.