Oxymoron: 3GPP approves Ligado’s L-Band Spectrum for 5G Private Networks

Overview:

Ligado Networks today announced it received approvals from Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for new technical specifications that will enable its L-band spectrum [1.] to be deployed in 5G networks.

Note 1. L band is the IEEE designation for the range of frequencies in the radio spectrum from 1 to 2 gigahertz (GHz).  Since World War II, radar systems engineers have used letter designations as a short notation for describing the frequency band of operation. This usage has continued throughout the years and is now an accepted practice of radar engineers. Radar-frequency letter designations are used for the following reasons:

1) They provide a convenient method for describing the band in which the radar operates without the need for awkwardly stating the limits of the frequency in numerical terms. For example, it is more convenient to say an L-band radar than a 1215 MHz to 1400 MHz radar. This is especially important in titles of published papers on radar, in advertising of radar systems and components, or in any other situation where a short notation is desired.

2) In military radar systems, the exact frequency of operation cannot usually be disclosed, but it is permissible in many cases to describe the band in which it operates. The letter designations permit this.

3) Each radar-frequency band has its own particular characteristics. Thus an X-band radar will be different from an S-band radar. The letter designations are often used in this manner to indicate the particular nature of the radar as it is influenced by its frequency. There are vast differences in characteristics, applications, and environmental constraints which distinguish radars in the different bands. It is the need to communicate concisely the whole set of characteristics which are shared by S-band radar, as distinguished from L-band radar, C-band radar, and the others, which requires the established usage of letter designations.

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Why is 3GPP “approval” of L-Band an oxymoron?  Because 3GPP specifications have no legal standing and must be transposed by SDOs (like ETSI and ITU-R) before they become de jure standards.  The best example of that were the 3GPP RIT/SRIT submissions to ITU-R WP5D which became the main part of ITU-R M.2150 (previously referred to as IMT 2020 Radio Access Network).

From the 3GPP website under the heading Official Publications:

The 3GPP Technical Specifications and Technical Reports have, in themselves, no legal standing. They only become “official” when transposed into corresponding publications of the Partner Organizations (or the national / regional standards body acting as publisher for the Partner). At this point, the specifications are referred to as UMTS within ETSI and FOMA within ARIB/TTC.

Some TRs (mainly those with numbers of the form xx.8xx) are not intended for publication, but are retained as internal working documents of 3GPP. Once a Release is frozen (see definition in 3GPP TR 21.900), its specifications are published by the Partners.

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How Frequencies get standardized for International Mobile Telecommunications:

IMT frequencies for all the G’s are agreed upon once every four years at the ITU-R WRC.  The last one was WRC 19 in Egypt.  After that, they are sent to ITU-R WP5D for detailed IMT terrestrial frequency arrangements, which are then added to a revision of ITU-R M.1036.  Once that M.1036 revision is approved, it is rubber stamped by ITU-R SG5 which meets once per year in November.

As of the close of last week’s WP5D meeting, there was no consensus on approving the WRC 19 specified mmW frequencies to be used with IMT 2150.   Hence, the revision of M.1036 to include 5G frequencies has not been approved yet.  One WP 5D meeting left to get that done this year prior to SG 5 meeting this November.

Ligado or the ITU-R 3GPP representative (currently ATIS) would have to submit their L-Band frequencies to WP 5D before their October 2021 meeting to get it approved as a frequency band to be used for M.2150 (the official one and only 5G RAN standard).

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Ligado wants to expand the L-Band vendor ecosystem and deploy new mid-band spectrum in 5G networks in the U.S. Ligado is currently developing a 5G Mobile Private Network Solution designed to bring the power of next-generation networks to the energy, manufacturing, health care, transportation, and other critical infrastructure sectors.

“This is a major milestone for us – in an already momentous year – and advances our vision to deploy this spectrum for a range of next-generation services,” said Ligado CEO Doug Smith. “The 3GPP green light gives us what we need to accelerate our commercial ecosystem activities and expand Ligado’s roster of partners to deploy this much-needed spectrum for U.S. businesses and consumers.”

3GPP approvals of Band 24 (1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz) may encourage vendors to build PRE-STANDARD 5G and LTE products compatible with Ligado’s mid-band spectrum. Ligado has already entered into commercial agreements with multiple 5G base station and chipset vendors. The company has also announced a collaboration with pioneering network operator Rakuten Mobile to showcase its 5G Mobile Private Network Solution, and the companies plan to deploy lab and field trials over the next 12 months.

The items that were approved at this week’s 3GPP plenary meeting include updates to Ligado’s existing LTE Band 24 (1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz); a new 5G NR Band labeled n24; a new 5G NR Supplemental Uplink (SUL) Band labeled n99; and NR Carrier Aggregation (CA) and SUL band combinations for n24 and n99 with CBRS, C-Band and EBS/BRS spectrum. The approvals of SUL band n99 and band combinations will help facilitate the deployments of L-Band spectrum with other mid-band airwaves like the C-Band, CBRS, and EBS spectrum bands.

“Receiving these 3GPP approvals is a huge springboard to deploy the L-Band in U.S. 5G networks, and we’re excited to have continued support from several industry-leading vendors,” said Chief Technology Officer Maqbool Aliani. “Bringing this additional mid-band spectrum to the 5G market will help the U.S. roll out next-generation deployments more quickly, at lower costs, and with superior network performance.”

Ligado submitted these work items to 3GPP in June 2020 after winning unanimous, bipartisan approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modify its existing spectrum license. In October 2020, the company announced it had successfully raised nearly $4 billion to develop and deploy the L-Band in 5G networks.

For years, it’s been rumored that Ligado wanted to sell its spectrum to the highest bidder, probably a wireless carrier desiring mid-band 5G spectrum. While that hasn’t happened, some still see it as a valuable resource for the Verizon or AT&T.  If T-Mobile or Dish acquired the L-band, they would extend their advantage even further, according to New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin in a September 2020 report.

“The final major step for Ligado will involve getting chipset and radio vendors to incorporate the L-Band into their designs, paving the way for a carrier to deploy the L-Band on towers and small cells and to sell devices that contain L-Band-supporting chipsets,” Chaplin wrote in a report for investors today. “This final leg of the process is likely to take some time, but could be accelerated by the support of a large industry player (one of the carriers), who can more easily encourage their vendors to integrate the spectrum into their equipment.”

Also, several analysts believe that the demand for private wireless networking equipment could eventually double the market for public wireless networks.

About Ligado Networks:

Building on 25 years of experience providing crucial satellite connectivity, Ligado’s mission is to modernize American businesses by delivering the 5G connectivity solutions needed to transform their operations and realize the efficiencies of a digital world. Our plans to deploy licensed mid-band spectrum in public and private 5G networks will help pave the way for future innovations and economic growth across America.

For further information:

Ligado Networks Media Contact:
Ashley Durmer, Chief Communications Officer and Head of Congressional Affairs
Tel: 703-390-2008
Ashley@ligado.com

References:

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/3gpp-approves-band-specifications-of-ligados-l-band-spectrum-for-5g-deployment-301316320.html

https://www.fiercewireless.com/private-wireless/ligado-obtains-3gpp-approvals-for-l-band-5g

https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/29086

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