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Global mobile trade body hails agreement on future mobile spectrum ranges

ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference concludes with consensus on roadmap for mobile services using designated low-band and mid-band frequencies

The trade body for the global mobile communications industry, the GSMA, has given a warm welcome to the decision made at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) that saw governments agree on new mobile low-band spectrum (below 1 GHz), and mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz ranges, shaping the future of mobile communications.

The GSMA noted that these outcomes at the treaty conference, which has the power to change international agreements on the use of radio spectrum, will allow the mobile sector to plan the next wave of communications development through 5G-Advanced and beyond. It added that for mobile, referred to at the ITU as international mobile technologies (IMT), WRCs serve an essential role in harmonising spectrum which will ensure economies of scale and facilitate planning for new spectrum bands to address data growth and deliver a future of sustainable connectivity.

WRC-23’s decision was taken amidst an environment where action is needed to meet mobile data growth by identifying additional mid-band spectrum for mobile. Final harmonisation of the 3.5 GHz band (3.3-3.8 GHz) – the pioneer 5G band – was achieved across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), as well as throughout the Americas. Notably, a new band – the 6 GHz band (6.425-7.125 GHz) – was identified for mobile in every ITU Region – EMEA, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. Countries representing more than 60% of the world’s population asked to be included in the identification of this band for licensed mobile at WRC-23.

The GSMA calculates that 2 GHz of mid-spectrum spectrum per market will be needed by 2030 to meet the demand of citizens and businesses in cities around the globe.

Low-band spectrum is ideal for covering wide areas with lower population density, and makes it an important resource that can deliver digital equality. The GSMA believes access to connectivity should not be dependent on where a person lives, and progress on low-band spectrum will help ensure that digital equality is achieved between urban and rural areas. In low and middle-income countries, adults are 29% less likely to use the mobile internet if they live in a rural area compared with their urban counterparts. The association said increasing low-band capacity can help support better rural networks.

City-wide capacity requires mid-band spectrum to deliver the main weight of connectivity requirements. The 3.5 GHz range is the sweet spot of 5G, and is assigned in over 80 countries already. The GSMA said further harmonisation of the 3.5 GHz range at WRC-23 will allow more countries to take advantage of economies of scale in the mobile ecosystem and benefit from higher speeds provided by wide spectrum channels in this range.

The GSMA said the 6 GHz band is the only remaining mid-band spectrum currently available to respond to the data traffic growth in the 5G-Advanced era. It believes the WRC-23 decision to harmonise the 6 GHz band in every ITU Region is a pivotal milestone, bringing a population of billions of people into a harmonised 6 GHz mobile footprint, and that it will also serve as a critical developmental trigger for manufacturers of the 6 GHz equipment ecosystem. 

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The 6GHz band is regarded as potentially lucrative, and rights to exploit it have been a contentious issue for both the international mobile telecommunications (IMT) sector and the Wi-Fi industry. Even though opportunities exist to use the upper 6GHz band for Wi-Fi services, comms operators have argued that with the lower part already assigned to mobile comms technology in many countries and 5G networks facing capacity restrictions before the end of this decade, mobile network operators strongly believe that allocating the upper section to IMT would be the best outcome for customers, industries and digital societies in general.

WRC-23 saw the 6 GHz spectrum as the harmonised home for the expansion of mobile capacity for 5G-Advanced and beyond. WRC-23 also set out a path towards greater digital equality by defining mobile use of more low-band spectrum in the 470-694 MHz band in EMEA, which can help expand capacity for the internet connectivity of rural communities as their signals reach over wide areas. WRC-23’s new low-band mobile allocations will be an important tool to break down the barriers towards digital equality in the EMEA region and lower the urban/rural connectivity divide.

The GSMA has long been of the belief that as enhanced broadband, the internet of things (IoT) and data permeate every aspect of society, mobile networks – especially 5G infrastructures – will require spectrum plans that can fulfil the long-term vision of each country.

Commenting on the decision made at the conference, GSMA chief regulatory officer John Giusti said: “WRC-23 has provided a clear roadmap for mobile services to continue to evolve and expand for the benefit of billions across the globe. The GSMA believes that no one should be left behind in the digital age and the decisions of WRC-23 will allow us to deliver a brighter future where mobile brings communities together, delivers industrial agility and provides economic growth. Implementation of the WRC-23 decisions will support global digital ambitions, deliver greater digital equality and unlock the full power of connectivity.”

GSMA head of spectrum Luciana Camargos added: “Over half the world is connected to the mobile internet today. But, as mobile connectivity develops, we need to ensure that we can deliver services for everyone. The great legacy of WRC-23 will be in allowing us to do so sustainably, affordably and in a way that delivers for the whole planet. We cannot stop here – WRC-23 is only the starting gun, and now governments will need to act on its decisions, enabling new mobile technologies that embrace sustainability and unleashing the full potential of mobile to deliver a better tomorrow for our planet.”

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