Up is down in 2022

There’s a lot to say about 2022. You could call it the year that was a gut punch or the year that turned many things upside down. The anti-climax of Covid ended, and the focus turned to war in Europe. Sweden suddenly wants to join NATO. How much more revolutionary can it be in a short space of time? So in this upside-down world order, isn’t it fitting that we are just now seeing a new 5G standard born, without base stations and cellular infrastructure? The opposite of what we expected would happen.

I thought we would see a diverse set of wireless standards in 5G. But I had guessed that wifi would be part of 5G (in 2012, when I wrote an article about it that was my idea, I have since slowly toned down this). I hadn’t for a second envisioned that defunct DECT would sail into a shrimp boat and take that spot. I didn’t see that one coming.

Waking up with a new idea

Finding free spectrum for new applications takes 10s of years. The International Telecommunication Union’s Radio Section, ITU-R, is taking just that long at least to find harmonized spectrum. So imagine waking up one morning and finding that there is spectrum available. Or, well, spectrum that is not so popular. I don’t know if that’s exactly what happened, but it’s a compelling thought. To find out that the DECT spectrum is global-ish and understand that it’s pretty vacant for new guests to move in. And then to tie a new 5G standard around that, which also has firm footholds in northern Europe. Amazing.

With a background in RF, my heart beats for free frequency bands. It doesn’t get more democratic than the free spectrum is free for all. Lately, I have heard voices raised against this standard in Sweden. The reason is that larger organizations such as municipalities, hospitals and so on use DECT. But the fact is that the frequency is free. And that’s as democratic as it gets. But for anyone who thinks that the free spectrum can be used for a single application, technology or system, the democracy in the air can be a cold shower. In this case, the new standard can co-exist with the old DECT phones, but the bottom line is that the frequency band is free.

It’s about seeking and setting limits. Taking the free spectrum for granted is a significant mindset shift. You become especially vulnerable if you use it for long link hops. With 5G NR+, the basic design is spot on. The idea is short hops from device to device. I firmly believe this is the right way to use free spectrum. Because free-band uplink technologies sound charming, they need to be well structured. With 5G NR+, you’ve hit the nail on the head. So sorry, all you people who use DECT phones, you will have to make room for something additional on the bands. Those of you who think that long link hops on free bands are the thing, beware of the next cold shower; 2022 leaves all doors open.