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WRC-23 wraps up with new low-to-mid-band spectrum for IMT

As the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) wrapped up on Friday, spectrum for mobile was agreed in low-band (below 1 GHz) and mid-band (3.5 GHz and 6 GHz) ranges.

Armita Satari

December 18, 2023

3 Min Read
Stage at WRC 23 with Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Source: ITU

The ITU-led conference (held every four years) concluded with what the GSMA, the trade organisation for mobile operators, hailed as a “groundbreaking spectrum decision” for mobile services - also referred to at the ITU as International Mobile Technologies (IMT).

To expand and develop broadband connectivity with 4G, 5G, and in future 6G technology, the revisions at year’s WRC included firstly the harmonisation of existing IMT spectrum bands across more countries in EMEA and Americas. This took place for the so-called 5G band (3.3 GHz-3.8 GHz).

Secondly, it included the addition of new bands for the use of IMT in the 6GHz band range (6.425-7.125 GHz). Many in the industry have argued the relevance of mid-band for the success of 5G, specifically when it comes 5G capacity rather than coverage. So, this should be music to their ears.

Commenting on the revisions, the GSMA went on to say “[on] average, 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.”

“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. 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. It also serves as a critical developmental trigger for manufacturers of the 6 GHz equipment ecosystem.”

WRC-23 also stablished regulations for the operation of 2 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands for using high-altitude platform stations (so-called HIBS). This, the ITU says will create a new platform for providing mobile broadband with little infrastructure, while making use of the same frequencies and devices as IMT mobile networks.

According to the ITU these bands can further help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural or remote areas as well as for securing continuous connectivity during disasters.

“WRC-23 has provided a clear roadmap for mobile services to continue to evolve and expand for the benefit of billions across the globe,” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA.

“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.”

With regards to non-geostationary fixed-satellite service Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs), new frequencies to deliver high-speed broadband onboard aircraft, vessels, trains, and vehicles were also identified. In disasters where local infrastructure may get damaged, such satellite services are critical for continued connectivity.

WRC-23 provisions to protect ship and aircraft mobile service stations which are based in international airspace and waters from other stations within national territories were also included.

There were also provisions made to modernise the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) among a total of 43 new resolutions that were approved during the conference. Meanwhile, 56 resolutions were revised and 33 suppressed.

Looking ahead to the next conference, the ITU will be examining the potential use of 7-8.5 GHz range for 6G. “The global agreement reached by ITU represents a significant milestone not just in the continued growth of 5G and 5G-Advanced connectivity, but also in the path to 6G.” said Joe Barrett, President of GSA, the association for mobile suppliers.

“The entire global mobile ecosystem can now innovate with confidence and a clear sense of the spectrum requirements for 6G, both in terms of its future availability and compatibility with other users of the spectrum."

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