The future of the 6 GHz band will be one of the hottest topics at the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23). In the last year, trials, interest from countries, and the outlook for the 6 GHz IMT ecosystem are all showing great promise. But that promise can only be realised if delegates at the conference make the right decisions.
6 GHz is the largest remaining single block of mid-band spectrum that can be assigned to licensed mobile in the foreseeable future. It can help 5G to play a central role in sustainable social and industrial development. As enhanced broadband, IoT, data, analytics, and insight permeate every aspect of society, mobile networks require a long-term vision of each nation’s future.
Identification in China
At MWC Shanghai, China announced the identification of the upper part of the band to IMT in the country’s table of frequency allocations, taking effect from 1 July 2023. China’s announcement shows how invested the country is in offering world-leading 5G networks now and well into the 2030s. It is also a big step towards commercial 6 GHz 5G ecosystem.
China’s efforts towards the 6 GHz band don’t come as a surprise. Conducive spectrum policies for the mid-bands, especially the 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz, have helped China to deploy the world’s largest 5G networks with over 2.7 million 5G base stations by the end of April 2023, and to be on track to become the first country to reach 1 billion 5G connections in 2025.
The rising number of connections have in turn demanded greater capacity and capability for 5G nationwide where additional mid-band will be crucial. The ability for 6 GHz to reuse the 3.5 GHz grid also makes it attractive for cost-effective upgrades of the 5G networks. Deutsche Telekom’s test in Bonn, Germany, confirmed gigabit speeds and that the right inter-site distances can allow the use of existing grids. This will accelerate the roll-out process, allowing users to reap the benefits quicker.
Countries are also starting to think more strategically about the band’s future. While the WRC agenda discusses the entire 6425-7125 MHz band in only the EMEA region, it is clear there is worldwide support for using this spectrum for licensed mobile.
China is not alone in Asia in considering 6 GHz development, and other countries have also formally expressed interest at recent ITU meetings. Countries of all sizes – from Singapore to India – are evaluating their options in preparation for WRC-23. Earlier this year, Mexico announced it is contemplating broader harmonisation of the 6 GHz range. Late last year, Chile’s Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications decided to go for the same approach, overturning a decision to make the whole band available for Wi-Fi.
In EMEA, meanwhile, there is already preliminary support in Africa and the CIS for 5G in the upper 6 GHz band, as well as several major Middle Eastern and European markets.
5G growth has fast-tracked interest
Mobile operators, universities and vendors have also carried out tests in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Thailand, Switzerland, and the UAE since last year. 5G growth has fast-tracked interest in the band and spurred equipment development. All these developments are further proof that 6 GHz is a viable option for securing 5G’s future growth.
Following a potential identification at WRC-23, the outlook for the 6 GHz IMT ecosystem is robust, according to a report from GSMA Intelligence. The report found no technical barriers to developing and commercialising 6 GHz IMT solutions.
Mid-bands will deliver the most economic value of the three spectrum ranges – low, mid- and high bands – that are required for 5G. They will drive an increase of more than $610 billion in global GDP in 2030, producing almost 65% of the overall socio-economic value generated by 5G. However, if spectrum is constrained to today’s assignments, 40% of that impact could be lost: $360bn in 2030 alone.
6 GHz is vital to meeting mid-band spectrum needs of 2 GHz on average, per market, by 2030. China’s early progress on the band adds significant scale for future growth and innovation that will form part of global development – and the worldwide ecosystem – for 6 GHz IMT systems.