Google Engineer Wants Spectrum to Be Shared in 5G Era

Google Logo 2016 AH 12

As the world steadily starts to move into the world of 5G, with networks being tested all the time, and a standard getting closer and closer to being ratified, it’s unsurprising that industry giants such as Google are looking to have their say. After all, Android is the most-used operating system on the planet right now, mobile or otherwise, and if there’s anyone that has an idea of how to position a technology for the future, it’d be Google. During a 5G North America Trade Conference, Google’s Preston Marshall wanted to turn the industry’s model of “exclusive spectrum” on its head for the future of 5G.

Marshall told the audience during a keynote address that “we have to break the model of exclusive spectrum”. This might not seem like a big idea to us, but when addressing a room full of executives and engineers that have built their networks and made a lot of money from the idea of having spectrum for one network only, it’s risky business, and Marshall himself admitted that they were “radical ideas”. Right now, the way that the industry mostly works is through a model of purchasing up lots of spectrum, the rights to broadcast on a certain wave length, and then keeping it all to themselves. Networks such as AT&T and Verizon, networks with the bigger wallets, can easily spend billions of dollars on spectrum, only to see it lie dormant, purely to make sure their competing networks can’t use the same spectrum to build a bigger network. Marshall, and by extension Google, want to see an end to this and have proposed a “neutral host” plan, which would allow smaller networks and MVNOs – not unlike Project Fi from Google themselves – to use this spectrum, allowing all networks to use it until it’s put up for auction and purchased outright.

While it should be noted that Google probably has their own motives at work here, with their Project Fi network being the prime example, Marshall went on to say that “everyone kind of benefits” from this idea. The push for such an idea comes from the nature of the spectrum being used for 5G itself, which, at frequencies as high as 28 Ghz can only effectively travel short distances below a mile or so. As such, a “neutral host” sort of platform that allowed networks to share this spectrum could see smaller networks start up in smaller areas, and help develop 5G in areas they otherwise might not be able to. This is an interesting idea, but of course the FCC will need to allow spectrum sharing for any of this to happen, and right now there’s little telling what the FCC is going to be doing in the next four years.