Spectrum decisions at the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 clear the path for a bright digital future for billions worldwide
15th December 2023, Dubai: The World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) concluded today with groundbreaking spectrum decisions that will shape the future of mobile communications. Governments agreed on new mobile low-band spectrum (below 1 GHz) and mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz ranges. The GSMA, which represents mobile operators worldwide, welcomed these outcomes that will allow the mobile sector to plan the next wave of communications development through 5G-Advanced and beyond.
World Radiocommunication Conferences are held every four years under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialised United Nations agency for information and communication technologies. These treaty conferences have the power to change international agreements on the use of radio spectrum. For mobile, referred to at the ITU as International Mobile Technologies (IMT), WRCs serve an essential role in harmonising spectrum. Harmonsiation ensures economies of scale and facilitates planning for new spectrum bands to address data growth and deliver a bright future of sustainable connectivity.
“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.”
WRC-23 took strong action 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 the 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 6 GHz spectrum is now 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. Low bands 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.
“Over half the world is connected to the mobile internet today,” said Luciana Camargos, Head of Spectrum at the GSMA. “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.”
The UAE, and its telecoms regulator TDRA, were recognised by delegates for hosting an unforgettable WRC, ensuring that ITU member states had the facilities needed to engage in the long and complex negotiations. As a result of their leadership in chairing the conference, WRC-23 will be remembered for its balanced yet bold decisions that will deliver digital evolution and connect the world.
Mobile spectrum discussions at WRC-23 focussed on three core ranges:
- Low-band spectrum is ideal for covering wide areas with lower population density. This makes it an important natural 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 to their urban counterparts. 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 birthplace of 5G and is assigned in over 80 countries already. The 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.
- 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.
The GSMA is a global organisation unifying the mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovation foundational to positive business environments and societal change. Our vision is to unlock the full power of connectivity so that people, industry, and society thrive. Representing mobile operators and organisations across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries, the GSMA delivers for its members across three broad pillars: Connectivity for Good, Industry Services and Solutions, and Outreach. This activity includes advancing policy, tackling today’s biggest societal challenges, underpinning the technology and interoperability that make mobile work, and providing the world’s largest platform to convene the mobile ecosystem at the MWC and M360 series of events.
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GSMA Press Office