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The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) held a working group meeting on May 3rd to open up discussions on spectrum issues and outline the 5G roadmap towards 2020. It was the second of three group meetings by the TRA held under the ITU's initiative "IMT for 2020 and beyond" (IMT-2020) setting the stage for 5G research activities that are emerging around the world.

The telecoms industry is preparing for when 5G mobile networks move from the lab to commercialization. Standardization bodies are working with operators, vendors and academia to define what 5G will be. It's widely agreed that 5G will require massive network density, access to high-band spectrum, massive multiple-input/multiple-output antenna technology, and many more features – which all needs to be standardized.

That's where the ITU's IMT-2020 initiative came into play. In early 2012, ITU-R, the ITU's Radiocommunications sector, embarked on a program to develop 'IMT for 2020 and beyond' to set the stage for 5G research activities that were emerging around the world. ITU-R was able to finalize its view of a timeline towards IMT-2020.

"The detailed investigation of the key elements of 5G are already well underway, once again utilizing the highly successful partnership ITU-R has with the mobile broadband industry and the wide range of stakeholders in the 5G community," said ITU. In September 2015, ITU-R finalized its vision of the 5G mobile broadband connected society.

Following this, various working groups of industry stakeholders went through technical performance requirements, evaluation criteria and method, and submission templates, and then moved into a workshop phase in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, the ITU's timeline calls for taking proposals on IMT-2020, evaluation of those proposals and consensus building ahead of standardization in 2020.

Two working group meetings have been undertaken by the TRA and one more meeting is yet to be held later this month. Speaking to Telecom Review on the sidelines of the second meeting, Sultan Al Balooshi, Senior Engineer of Spectrum Policy at the TRA said these three working groups address three aspects of 5G issues: radio spectrum, verticals and networks.

"Our meeting today involved the working group targeting spectrum issues which will be followed by a meeting on vertical issues," said Al Balooshi. "At the meeting we discussed our roadmap towards 2020 and we discussed the outcomes that we would like to see, which includes early deployment of 5G before 2020 in order to execute 5G demos within the next year."

Al Balooshi said the TRA will be hosting the plenipotentiary conference of the International Telecommunications Union in 2018. The ultimate goal, he said, is to have a practical 5G network ready to go for the Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The spectrum meeting continued discussions from the first meeting which took place in March this year. Pre-workshop meetings took place in 2016, said Al Balooshi but the official meetings started in 2017. At the second meeting, the TRA shared insights and outcomes from the Arab Group meeting held in Abu Dhabi last month, he said, particularly with regards to 5G frequency bands.

Also discussed at the meeting were outcomes from the annual meeting of the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG) which was established in 1997 to cooperate in the field of spectrum management. Discussions also revolved around contribution to one of the working groups on the ITU level which is Task Group 5/1 working on future 5G bands.

"We will be working hand-in-hand with the other working groups (networks and verticals) because ultimately the results from these working groups will go to the higher committee in order to give us directions on the way forward to reach the desired results by 2020," said Al Balooshi.

One of the challenges discussed at the spectrum meeting was the fact that some of the frequency bands for IMT-2020 have existing use for other services, such as satellite, which creates difficulty for using both services on the same band. For that reason, Al Balooshi explained, attendees of the meeting discussed the potential of sharing the spectrum between the two services so that they don't "harmfully interfere" in the future.

Another challenge discussed was standardization for the IMT-2020 systems which goes hand-in-hand with other international standards organizations such as 3GPP. "One of the biggest challenges we discussed was the need to harmonize with neighboring countries in order to have a unified direction for the UAE and neighboring countries for use of these frequency bands," said Al Balooshi.

As a result of ASMG's studies, some specific frequency bands have been agreed upon to initiate the studies on ITU level. From a long list of bands, the specified frequencies are the 26GHz band, the 32GHz band, and the 42GHz band. "This will be an input to the Task Group 5/1 happening in two weeks," said Al Balooshi. "We plan to ask the group to start studies on these three bands."

Conversations at the Task Group 5/1 meeting will focus on the parameters that can be used for studies on these bands. Al Balooshi explained how it's important to have common parameters to use for such studies, because there cannot be different parameters. Over 150 countries participate in the studies, so having different parameters would bring mixed results.

The target of TG-5/1 is to start the studies on certain bands and to identify the parameters. The international coordination goes in both directions: horizontally with the UAE's neighboring GCC countries, and vertically with other countries in Europe, Africa, etc.

The TRA is currently "working hand-in-hand" with Etisalat and du by allowing them to initiate trials for 5G on certain bands, said Al Balooshi. "Etisalat has already announced 5G trials for 2017 and the TRA is facilitating these trials," he said.

The TRA is discussing spectrum requirements for the operators that they will need in the coming years to cater for 5G. The organization also takes care of other licensees' requirements such as the satellite operators in the UAE (i.e. Yahsat and Thuraya).

Al Balooshi said the TRA plans to have a 5G demo during the plenipotentiary which will take place sometime towards the end of 2018 in Dubai. By that time they would like to have pre-commercial deployment of 5G. "We expect that the first commercial deployment of 5G will be during Expo 2020," he said. "Full-fledged 5G will then follow in the following years."

One of the national KPIs for the TRA is "network readiness" and the TRA is trying to enhance its ranking internationally, said Al Balooshi, and this comes with the improvement and endorsement of advanced technologies such as 5G.