Speaking about how much spectrum is needed by a network operator to make a difference with 5G, I had a closer look at how the German telco regulator wants to go forward with the auction of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band. The spectrum auction is scheduled to take place in 2019 and the details about which part of the 3.6 GHz band shall be used for which purpose can be found in German here and in English here.
In essence, the BNetzA has earmarked 300 MHz (3.4 – 3.7 GHz) for network operators that want to provide nationwide coverage. There are currently three nationwide mobile network operators in Germany, so depending on whether only those or also other new entrants are interested, it is possible, but by far not certain, for a company to get a 100 MHz channel for 5G. Depending on the competition, however, it could also be less or theoretically also more.
There is an additional 100 MHz of spectrum in the band (3.7 to 3.8 GHz) that the BNetzA has reserved for ‘local and regional’ use. A number of non-telco industry players have called for this and it looks like the BNetzA has granted their requests and will assign this spectrum locally upon request, i.e. they are not part of the upcoming spectrum auction.
Note: The spectrum auction will also include a bit of spectrum in the 2.1 GHz band that is currently used for UMTS. However, compared the the 3.6 GHz band, there is only little spectrum in this band to redistribute.