WRC-23 will define Europe’s Digital Decade

By adopting final positions ahead of the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) that encourage 5G expansion, policymakers can help deliver Digital Decade goals and create a greener Europe that leaves no one behind in the digital age. 

Europe is soon finalising its positions for the ITU WRC-23 conference, which takes place in Dubai from 20 November. WRC-23 can support expansion of 5G into all areas and enable affordable connectivity for all people. In short, its outcome is crucial for the future of mobile broadband.

Mobile broadband is a proven catalyst for GDP growth, the basis for social inclusion and wellbeing, and a powerful tool in the fight against climate change.  The EU’s Digital Decade envisages full 5G coverage by 2030, which means ensuring digital equality and inclusion for all European citizens and businesses no matter who or where they are.

This ambitious vision requires the support of European decision-makers. Mobile needs the spectrum capacity to deliver digital inclusion: connecting everyone, everywhere. Telecom operators are providing essential services for European society and its economy and we are committed to helping deliver the Digital Decade. As data use expands, additional spectrum will be required to satisfy demand for mobile broadband and ensure that Europe remains competitive with other regions in terms of the digitisation of EU citizens and businesses.

The ambitious Digital Decade targets cannot be met unless a clear roadmap of increased spectrum capacity for mobile networks is tied into Europe’s digital plans. This is why the mobile community believes in two imperatives at this WRC:

  1. A primary mobile allocation of the 470-694 MHz band (Agenda item 1.5)
  2. An IMT identification for the 6425-7125 MHz band (Agenda item 1.2).

Low-band spectrum and digital inclusion

Europe has an opportunity to enhance digital inclusion across the continent at WRC-23.  Sufficient low-band spectrum, which a primary allocation of the 470-694 MHz at WRC-23 would help deliver, is necessary for delivering growing demand for mobile broadband in rural areas and for enhancing indoor coverage. It helps provide better access to digital healthcare, education and media services. Future usage scenarios such as automated driving are also dependent on access to low bands. The socio-economic upside from just low-band 5G is expected to be around $26 billion in 2030.

However, future success requires action in 2023. Delaying a primary mobile allocation for the UHF band until later conferences such as WRC-31 would be too late. A review by the European Commission of the usage of the band in Europe is expected by 2025. WRC-23 offers the opportunity to create a predictable regulatory environment and provide flexibility for the subsequent European evaluation process. Inclusion of a primary mobile allocation in the ITU Radio Regulations would provide the international framework to allow Europe to decide flexibly when and how to introduce mobile services in the band.

Future options for 5G expansion and advanced 5G services with the 6 GHz band

Mid-band spectrum will power city-wide 5G and can play a central role in sustainable social and industrial development. By 2030, 65% of the economic value of 5G will be provided by mid-band spectrum. The frequency range 6425-7125 MHz is important for mobile operators since it provides additional capacity for mobile networks across cities and other networked areas.

We recognise the intention of Europe to study the most beneficial usage of the band after WRC-23. However, international coordination requires action and agreement on technical conditions at WRC-23 is needed for mobile to flourish in the band. An IMT identification in 6 GHz will be an important developmental trigger for mobile products and the ecosystem. 6 GHz is a new mobile band and requires government and regulatory support to define the conditions for its development.

If WRC-23 supports an IMT identification in 6 GHz, the outlook for the 6 GHz IMT ecosystem is robust, according to a recent report, which found there are no technical barriers to developing and commercialising, 6 GHz IMT solutions.

WRC-23 can support the Digital Decade vision

Digital equality and innovation, as well as the ability to expand 5G to the end of the decade and into the 2030s, are at stake at WRC-23. Europe has a vision for a Digital Decade and governments need to act now in order support the goals of inclusion, development and growth that it promises.