Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications & Mass Media has aired a proposal to issue 5G mobile frequencies in the coveted 3.4GHz-3.8GHz range free-of-charge to a ‘single operator with state participation’ in a ‘compatibility mode with special services’ by enabling security forces to directly access networks and switch off base stations if deemed necessary. According to Russian newspaper Kommersant’s sources, the proposal was put forward on 20 June at a session held by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on draft strategy for development of the communications industry up to 2035. Under the Ministry’s scheme, a single recipient would be issued multi-band 5G spectrum valid up to that date, including frequencies within the 694MHz-790MHz band previously issued to broadcasters, the 4.8GHz-4.99GHz range (already prioritised by the Ministry as a key 5G resource) and the thus-far withheld 3.4GHz-3.8GHz band ‘in intelligence compatibility mode’. The sole 5G licensee would be required to implement a ‘frequency sharing system’ allowing law enforcement agencies to shut down network signals in any given location. Kommersant’s report indicated the ‘single’ 5G operator is likely to be a consortium of market participants involving state-owned Rostelecom.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that national fixed operator Rostelecom – the parent of cellco Tele2 Russia – is part of 5G development joint venture New Digital Solutions, also including MegaFon, Beeline and Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), the quartet having finalised their 25% stakes in July 2022, with an initial focus on R&D and measures to release spectrum from existing usage, prioritising the 694MHz-790MHz, 3.4GHz-3.8GHz, 4.4GHz-4.99GHz and 24.25GHz-29.5GHz ranges.

The GlobalComms Database also notes that the key 3.4GHz-3.8GHz range is partly utilised by Roscosmos and others for satellite communications for government/military/intelligence agencies and has been repeatedly blocked for commercial mobile usage by state bodies including the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Security Service, whilst remaining Russian fixed wireless access (FWA) 3.5GHz licences were extended for a period which expired in July 2022.

Regarding the 694MHz-790MHz band, GlobalComms adds that MTS, MegaFon, Tele2 Russia/Rostelecom and Beeline currently hold in-principle rights to this spectrum via their federal LTE licences but in practice can only utilise this resource once relinquished by the broadcasting sector; most recently, on 23 December 2023 the State Commission for Radio Frequencies (SCRF) stated simply that the four licensees would retain their existing rights to 694MHz-790MHz spectrum with a view to being permitted to utilise it ‘in the future’.

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