WRC-23: Mobile spectrum for Africa’s future

Mobile is used by over 5 billion people worldwide every day. It creates business opportunities, connects us with loved ones, provides healthcare and education, and allows us to enjoy many of the things that make life worth living. The GSMA is made up of more than 1000 mobile operators and other businesses in the mobile ecosystem from every corner of the globe. Together, we share a vision that mobile services can be delivered to all people and industries, leaving no-one behind in the digital age.

The World Radiocommunication Conference this year (WRC-23), held under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is an opportunity to support that vision and make sure that we build crucial development pillars to increase digital equality, widen harmonisation to produce economies of scale and provide a clear roadmap to address future spectrum capacity needs. In the case of mobile, the WRC plays an important role in harmonising spectrum using, in ITU terminology, an IMT identification. This international agreement creates vast economies of scale and device diversity.

For those MNOs with operations in Africa, WRC-23 is a pathway to better quality services, delivered to more people by the most affordable networks. MNOs need the new spectrum capacity that will be considered at WRC-23 to provide consistent speeds to more people as 5G services take off. The right amount of capacity allows us to minimise the number of base stations in the network, which does not just keep costs down but also saves carbon emissions.

Globally, 55% of people are connected to the mobile internet while 45% are not. The unconnected fall into two categories – those who live in areas where there are no mobile networks (the coverage gap), and those who live within a mobile footprint but do not use mobile broadband (the usage gap). The vast majority of the unconnected fall within the usage gap, which stands at 40% of the global population but is much higher in Africa at 61%. Some of the causes of the usage gap – affordability and usability – are problems with which WRC-23 can help.

Low-band spectrum discussed at WRC-23 (470-694 MHz) will support better quality services in rural areas and improve digital equality while leaving more than enough spectrum for existing services. The future of mid-band spectrum is also on the agenda at WRC-23. The 3.5 GHz band is the most widely used 5G band and supports the largest equipment ecosystem. There is an opportunity to expand the harmonisation of 3.3-3.8 GHz at WRC-23, which can help deliver affordable and sustainable 5G services to more people and lower the usage gap. Meanwhile, by supporting 6 GHz for IMT, African countries can ensure they can deliver fast mobile services beyond the end of this decade. This band is under development for mobile / IMT and will come online in the years after WRC-23. It will provide crucial expansion opportunities as Africa looks to use 5G to leap over the barriers of laying fibre in the same way that it used 2G to avoid copper wires. Connecting Africa to fibre-like speeds through FWA can become a reality if this is powered by 6 GHz IMT.

Spectrum in the ranges 470-694 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz, with that vital IMT identification at WRC-23, can deliver our vision for mobile in Africa. It can make fast, sustainable, and affordable networks available to more people.

Through WRC, mobile can lower the usage gap while driving scale and further investment. It can allow us to transform industries and deliver services that are an asset to our countries, ensuring our industrial agility in the global marketplace.

Together, we can deliver affordable 5G across the continent and help ensure no-one is left behind in a digital age. In doing so, WRC-23 can make decisions for the benefit of billions.

To achieve this vision, we urge the countries of the region to consider the following actions at WRC-23:

  1. Adding a primary mobile allocation in the band 470-694 MHz, allowing those countries that wish to do so to identify the band, or parts of it, for IMT
  2. Identifying the band 3.3-3.8 GHz for IMT
  3. Identifying the 6 GHz band (6.425-7.125 GHz) for IMT

To learn more, please visit: https://www.gsma.com/spectrum/wrc-series/