Setting the Stage for 6G

This article is part of the Spectrum Policy Trends 2023 report. Download the full report for a handy compilation of the top six spectrum policy trends for 2023.

5G is being rolled out at scale and the development maturity of 5G-Advanced has given clear vision into the social, economic and business opportunities of the next phase of 5G development. At the same time, the mobile industry is already studying how 6G will shape the future of mobile. For regulators, ministries, operators, vendors and researchers, spectrum policy for 6G is becoming increasingly important. 2023 will mark the beginning of a long journey for 6G as new studies initiate.

6G is expected to become the primary mobile technology in the 2030s and will offer an enhanced user experience compared to previous generations. Mainly, it will enable SDGs through global coverage, sustainability and security; all features that will lead to an era of universal, meaningful connectivity. 6G promises ultra-fast data rates with lower latency, significant energy efficiency, and greater reliability. While 6G applications are yet to be defined, this new generation aims to reach global connectivity, sensing connectivity, immersive communications, and critical services, among several other potential use cases throughout a hybrid and diverse technology approach.

What are the policy considerations?

6G comes with new spectrum considerations. Among these are additional capacity and frequency ranges needed, from low to very high bands, to support these next-gen services. A new frequency range being considered for 6G is 7-24 GHz with a special focus in 7-15 GHz, which is supported by the GSMA following discussions with the mobile community and represents a potential solution for the 2023-2027 WRC study cycle at the ITU.

What do we expect to see in the year ahead?

The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) in November will set the spectrum foundations for 6G. WRC-23 will discuss the agenda for WRC-27, thereby defining the likely roadmap for spectrum bands supporting future networks. There have been previous discussions and some prototype demonstrations on the use of THz spectrum for 6G, and the use of 7-15 GHz for future networks. The WRC-27 agenda will also act as a blueprint for discussions outside the ITU and for regional harmonisation agreements.

Ahead of WRC-23, ITU-R Working Party 5D (WP 5D), which focuses on IMT systems, has started to develop a Draft New Recommendation, expected to be finalised in the summer of 2023, called “IMT Framework for 2030 and Beyond.”

Outside the ITU, different organisations and groups have started their research on 6G. ETSI launched a study group for 6G standards. The group called Specification Group on Terahertz (ISG THz) aims to define the scenarios and the potential frequency bands for THz communications. It will initially focus on two categories of use cases: mobile applications with high data rate requirements and applications requiring communication and sensing functionalities, such as holographic experience. Also, the 6G Industry Association (6GIA) was created as the voice of European industry and research for next-generation networks; similarly, the 6G Flagship was created as a Finnish government programme on 6G research. In North America, ATIS has launched the Next G Alliance, an industry collaboration between MNOs and vendors, to develop industry guidelines on the spectrum needs, as well as research on the potential socioeconomic and climate benefits from this novel technology.

Ultimately, 6G spectrum work in 2023 will be driven by industry research and collaboration.

Planning today for a 6G future

In every mobile generation, countries must agree on additional spectrum allocations for mobile services, IMT identifications and harmonisation. Countries should identify their needs, participate in the international regulatory process and plan their roadmaps, allowing their citizens and economic sectors to get full value from new technologies. MNOs must stay abreast of any developments related to 6G policy, ensuring ongoing access to reliable service levels once these policies are implemented in their countries or regions of operation.

Understanding the 6G development process gives governments, MNOs and the wider digital ecosystem the critical tools required to ensure success when it comes time to roll out 6G services in the 2030s.

Policy Good Practice: ITU’s Vision for IMT-2030  

Ahead of WRC-23, the ITU-R is expected to finalise a Draft New Recommendation, “IMT Framework for 2030 and Beyond” in the summer of 2023. The aim of the Recommendation is to drive further development of IMT by defining the framework and overall objectives of IMT-2030, including the role 6G could play in meeting the needs of future societies.

The industry and research community will be conducting research to develop requirements and concepts on:

• Trends of IMT-2030 and beyond: applications, technology and spectrum needs
• Views on the future role of IMT in serving users and the society
• Usage scenarios for IMT-2030
• Capabilities of IMT-2030