Dr. Abdulhadi AbouAlmal
Head of Technology Standardization & Spectrum Management, Etisalat
There are growing needs for fixed broadband services worldwide. The Covid-19 pandemic provided an important evidence to the real necessity of developing cost effective wireless solutions based on international standards for catering the demands for fixed broadband service across wide coverage areas (e.g. including sub-urban and rural areas). In addition, such international ecosystem will be beneficial for several fixed broadband use-cases under fixed services including high-resolution surveillance cameras. The potential has further increased due to Covid-19 pandemic considering the increasing number of people engaged in work from home, distance learning …etc.
International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) is the terminology used by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to represent the widely adopted platform that encompasses IMT-2000, IMT- Advanced, IMT-2020 and future development of IMT systems. The ITU is the UN organization responsible for regulating the global use of radiocommunication services and systems. The IMT technologies support mobile and fixed services worldwide as well as other radiocommuniation services including terrestrial broadcasting. In addition, IMT specifications, air interfaces and core functionalities are being used by other services and systems, including Low Earth Orbit satellites, to get the benefits of such international ecosystem. ITU-R Resolution 221 (Rev.WRC-07) addresses the use of IMT in HAPS systems, which was identified for spectrum allocated to fixed service, to support wireless access networks in remote and rural areas. In general, IMT-2020 capabilities are significantly growing to manage the requirement of multiple services, verticals and industries including fixed broadband in more efficient and effective ways.
As emphasized by ITU and other international organizations, the IMT has formed a substantial pillar of our modern societies that contributes to the socio-economic development over decades. It grew rapidly to supports connectivity, applications, and services and to form a global force for change and empowerment. IMT becomes a major platform worldwide for accessing information and communication.
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the organization that creates and maintains the technical standards for global communication technologies, including UMTS, LTE, 5G, and beyond …etc. The 3GPP organization is leading the development of specifications in coordination with ITU that sets the guidelines and requirements for these international ecosystem to be adopted globally. ITU has set the framework for IMT standards, encompassing IMT-2000, IMT-Advanced and IMT-2020, spans the 3G, 4G and 5G industry technologies, which will continue to evolve.
Some of the other terminologies used in this paper are defined in accordance with the relevant ITU-R Radio Regulations (RR), Reports and Recommendations as follow:
- Fixed service (FS) is defined as radiocommunication service between specified fixed points as per section III on Radio services of ITU-R RR article (1) on terms and definitions.
- Fixed wireless access (FWA) is defined as wireless access application in which the location of the end-user termination and the network access point to be connected to the end-user are fixed.
In addition, ITU has defined different categories of radiocommunication services in terms of the associated spectrum allocation; namely primary and secondary services. The secondary service shall not cause harmful interference to stations of primary services to which frequencies are assigned. In addition, secondary service cannot claim protection from harmful interference from stations of a primary service to which frequencies are assigned. On the other, services can claim protection, however, from harmful interference caused by stations of the same or other service(s) in the same primary or secondary categories, to which the frequencies are assigned.
Motivation and Global Challenges
There is a global demand to bridge the digital divide worldwide through providing broadband services to rural and under-served areas. There is still shortage in broadband service in even urban environment across number of countries. Broadband services can be provided through wired or wireless communication systems. The use of international IMT ecosystem for Fixed Broadband and FWA can provide feasible solutions to support broadband agenda in developing and developed countries.
International research on the fixed broadband has shown limited penetration by end of 2019. Around 45% of the households worldwide had broadband connectivity by end of 2019, where almost one third of these connections belonged to Chinese households. Such broadband shortage seems to be a future driver to the growth of FWA solutions. However, efficient and cost effective FWA technologies can be developed based on international IMT standards (e.g. 3GPP compliant technologies) to ensure long-term investment and future proof.
During Covid-19 pandemic, the fixed broadband requirement becomes a priority rather than a luxury including within rural areas. Accordingly, mobile operators were forced to use their mobile networks for fixed services to respond to the rapidly growing fixed broadband demands. The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has recently issued number of reports on the number of operators launching FWA services over IMT-based 3GPP technologies in more than 160 countries. In June 2020, 426 operators and 83 operators were identified as investing in LTE broadband FWA and 5G FWA services, respectively. In July 2020, 797 operators launched LTE networks offering broadband fixed wireless access and/or mobile services and 84 operators launched one or more 3GPP compliant 5G services. In August 2020, the number grew to 96 operators launching 5G services. The 5G deployment will continue to play important role in the FWA growth worldwide.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, number of telecom operators in some countries have been using 3GPP compliant IMT systems (e.g. LTE technology) in the bands allocated to fixed services in their territories noting that these IMT systems were originally developed in other countries based on the mobile allocation existing in the same bands. It should be noted that the same frequency range can be allocated to the mobile service in certain region/countries and to the fixed service in other region/countries. However, the 3GPP compliant IMT systems were conventionally developed whenever mobile allocation exist.
Some of the traditional challenges for the wide deployment of the wired and wireless fixed broadband networks including FWA networks on large coverage scale are:
- Complexity and cost burdens associated with deployment fiber networks, in particular within under-served areas.
- Lack of international ecosystem that can achieve economies of scale and provide cost effective solutions for nationwide implementation, in particular within rural areas.
- Lack of international standards of fixed wireless solutions developed within the frequency bands allocated to fixed service within the ITU Radio Regulations (RR), but may not be allocated to mobile service or identified to IMT across ITU regions. Today, most of these fixed wireless solutions are based on proprietary technologies where both the network stations and user equipment are provided by same suppliers that are usually lacking for future development and economies of scale.
The use of mobile networks to support the fixed broadband requirement in addition to the mobile broadband users has provided quick solution for many countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the risk is increasing for overloading mobile networks with the high fixed broadband demands considering the following:
- There is higher pressure to maintain the minimum throughput offered for fixed broadband users where traffic profiles can be higher than mobile users which are usually offered services on best effort basis.
- The fixed broadband users may have significant impact on the quality of service and experience of the mobile broadband users when deployed within dense and urban areas.
- The cost of mobile spectrum is usually much higher than fixed spectrum. This could add the burden of wasting expensive mobile spectrum resources among much less number of fixed broadband users when compared with the large span of mobile broadband users.
ITU Role in IMT development and potential for fixed services
ITU Plenipotentiary Resolution 139 (Rev. Dubai, 2018) called for “Use of telecommunications/information and communication technologies to bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive information society” and Resolution 37 (Rev. Buenos Aires, 2017) called for “Bridging the digital divide”. The adoption of international wireless ecosystems is important to achieve economies of scale for fixed broadband solutions in response to these ITU Resolutions and to help bridging the digital divide worldwide.
The ITU has been identifying the use of IMT within certain frequency bands on global, regional or country basis. Traditionally, these frequency bands identified for IMT were usually allocated to mobile service. Such IMT identification plays significant role to facilitate the implementation and harmonization of IMT broadband networks worldwide. For example, the IMT identification has led to the international adoption of 3GPP 3G/4G/5G technologies within certain frequency bands in alignment with the ITU radio regulations and standards for the corresponding IMT platforms.
Similarly, it is proposed within ITU process to identify the use of IMT systems for fixed services intended for fixed wireless broadband including FWA within some of the frequency bands with primary allocation to the fixed service on global or regional basis. During ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), the author represented UAE Administration to initiate this proposal in WRC-19 to be considered for study under the new agenda of the next ITU WRC-23 conference, which was supported by other Arab countries (Kingdom of Bahrain, State of Kuwait and Tunisia). WRC-19 has finally agreed to include this subject for study as part of WRC-23 agenda. In addition, WRC-19 has approved new ITU Resolution on the use of IMT within the frequency bands allocated to the fixed service on primary basis. Such usage of IMT systems in the relevant frequency bands with primary allocation to fixed service should be in accordance with the ITU-R Radio Regulations and the relevant ITU-R studies.
The WRC-19 discussion on this topic was conducted under agenda item 10, which is the tool for Administrations to recommend to the Council items for inclusion in the agenda for the next WRC, and to give its views on the preliminary agenda for the subsequent conference and on possible agenda items for future conferences, in accordance with Article 7 of the Convention.
One example of the frequency band proposed during the conference was 10.7-11.7 GHz, which has already primary allocation to the fixed service in the ITU RR. Recommendation ITU-R F.387 on fixed wireless systems operating in the 10.7-11.7 GHz band recognizes the IMT-2020 usage and demands. This frequency band has been used for long period to deploy fixed wireless systems across the three ITU regions under fixed services. However, number of proprietary technologies have been used for several years. The development of IMT-2020 system within such band can provide potential alternative technology for fixed broadband in many countries due to:
- Current usage for fixed deployment in many countries (point to multi-point and point-to-point),
- Better propagation characteristics for coverage purpose in comparison with bands above 20 GHz,
- Large bandwidth availability for catering growing capacity demands.
There are number of frequency bands that have primary allocation to the fixed service within ITU RR. The following table includes some examples of these frequency ranges along with bandwidth availability in accordance with Article 5 of ITU-R Radio Regulations, in particular section IV on Table of Frequency Allocations. Some of the frequency ranges are grouped for simplicity, however, it should be noted that primary allocations and relevant conditions may differ across ITU Regions within the whole or part of the given frequency ranges. Also, it should be noted that the given frequency bands have already primary allocation to mobile service, or mobile except aeronautical mobile service, within the whole or part of the given frequency ranges in one or more ITU Regions. The allocation to mobile service, or mobile except aeronautical mobile service depends on the ITU Region under consideration.
Table: Examples for frequency ranges allocated to Fixed Service on primary basis
(within one or more ITU Regions)
|Frequency range||Available Bandwidth|
|3.6-4.2 GHz||600 MHz|
|4.4-5 GHz||600 MHz|
|5.925-8.5 GHz||2.575 GHz|
|10.5-13.25 GHz||2.75 GHz|
|14.3-15.35 GHz||1.05 GHz|
|17.7-18.7 GHz||1 GHz|
|21.4-23.6 GHz||2.2 GHz|
|27.5-29.5 GHz||2 GHz|
|31.5-33.4 GHz||1.9 GHz|
Note: The above table provides examples of some frequency bands but not an exclusive list for the spectrum resources with primary allocation to fixed service.
In accordance with the above, the use of IMT technologies for fixed wireless broadband including FWA will provide the developing and developed countries capabilities to develop fixed broadband networks on nationwide basis utilizing cost effective international ecosystems as well as to support multiple growing fixed use-cases on timely manner.
The ongoing international development of IMT ecosystem to support advanced capabilities while achieving the economies of scale through multi-suppliers of networks and user equipment provide international benefits for using IMT for Fixed Wireless Broadband including:
- Potential for large countries to bridge digital divide within rural and under-served areas through cost effective wireless solutions based on international IMT standards.
- IMT technologies are supported by multi-stakeholders and suppliers to ensure future development and capabilities enhancement, while most of proprietary FWA technologies operating in spectrum allocated to fixed service today are based on dedicated suppliers, which add technical and cost burdens on the widespread of broadband services in many countries.
With 14 years of international professional experience, Dr. Abdulhadi AbouAlmal is Director of Technology Standardization & Spectrum Management who has held various leadership roles in Etisalat Group. Before 2008, he joined many UAE universities and research centers. He has led many projects including Smart City development,Radio Access Transformation in UAE (e.g. 5G)…etc. He is also advisory board member of UAE universities including American University of Sharjah and Ajman University. He led several national and international projects including propagation modeling for Gulf region, cost modeling of telecom services, business analysis, and modeling of wireless networks. He is leading Etisalat and regional contributions in many international organizations (e.g. ITU, 3GPP, GSMA, SAMENA). He has been chairing various national and international expert groups such as ITU-T SG20 on IoT& Smart City, Vice-chairman of ITU-R Task Group 6/1 and Chairman of WG CPM Development on radiocommunication aspects. He is representative of Etisalat Group, UAE Administration, Arab SpectrumManagement and Arab Standardization Groups in ITU, 3GPP and several mobile industry fora. Also, he is Liaison Rapporteur of ITU-T SG20 with ITU-R and 3GPP.
Dr. Abdulhadi obtained his PhD degree in wireless and mobile communication from University of Bradford, UK, in addition to MSc degree in Engineering Systems Management, and BSc in Communication Engineering. He is the author and co-author of many journal and conference papers.