WRC-19 strikes a good balance, sets stage for mmWave 5G

Striking a balance between enabling exciting new opportunities with 5G and protecting existing radio services, the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) has identified new global spectrum bands such as 26 GHz and 40 GHz for IMT.

Collaboration across continents and industries has always been at the heart of the success of the WRC process. For the mobile industry, the ITU has once again played a critical role in connecting the world’s citizens to the enabling power of mobile services through the identification of harmonised spectrum, fostering scale and affordability. The delegates have struck a fair balance, making sure 5G innovation doesn’t hinder other services.

At WRC-19, countries supported a harmonised identification of 26 GHz, 40 GHz, and 66 GHz for ultra-high-speed and ultra-low latency consumer, business and government services. The conference also made it possible to start using 50 GHz for 5G.

The result means national governments around the world now have the opportunity to consider mobile assignments across the identified mmWave spectrum. In doing so, they will help deliver long-lasting socio-economic benefits.

Once assigned, mmWaves can enable ground-breaking new 5G services in areas such as manufacturing, transport, healthcare and education. Importantly, governments not only have final say in the identification of new spectrum. The speed, reach and quality of 5G services depends on governments and regulators supporting timely access to the right amount and type of affordable spectrum, and under the right conditions.

Not every country will assign all frequencies, but the burgeoning global ecosystem around mmWave spectrum gets a big boost from the results at WRC-19 with the certainty of the identification now written into a UN treaty.

The use of mmWaves in commercial networks are already showing huge potential. For example, independent measuring company Opensignal has reported real-world speeds of over 1,800Mbps in the US where mobile operators are pioneering the use of this spectrum.

What happens next

For all the potential the WRC-19 results create, now is also the time to look forward. The conference also decided on an agenda for the next WRC in 2023 that will consider identification of additional mid- and low-frequency bands.

Offering a good mixture of coverage and capacity, mid-frequency spectrum in the 3 GHz range (from 3.3-4.2 GHz) has become the birthplace of 5G in many parts of the world. This range is on the agenda for the 2023 WRC and increasing the amount of globally harmonised spectrum in this range would boost 5G network performance and bring down deployment costs. It would also help drive major socio-economic benefits.

An important step in the evolution of 5G is spreading the benefits of 5G to rural areas and accelerating the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. To help, the GSMA is also supporting efforts to identify more spectrum below 1 GHz at WRC-23 to improve 5G coverage.

In short, the critical work within the ITU continues unabated and will help make the best possible mobile services available for everyone and everything.