The ITU-sponsored World Radio Conference (WRC-19) was held at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh between the 28th October to the 22nd November 2019. Held every four years, the event attracted more than 3,400 delegates from around 165 ITU member states.
The main telecoms-related battle at the conference centred on which high-frequency mmWave bands should be dedicated to 5G and under what conditions. Agenda Item 1.13 looked at seven frequency ranges for mobile broadband spectrum between 24.25 and 86 GHz, with an initial focus on the 26, 32 and 40 GHz bands.
By the end of the conference 17.25 GHz of spectrum had been identified for 5G (compared to the 1.9 GHz of bandwidth available before the conference) in the following frequency bands: 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 GHz, 45.5-47 GHz, 47.2-48.2 and 66-71 GHz. Of this, 14.75 GHz of spectrum has already been harmonised worldwide, thus facilitating global roaming as well as aiding economies of scale.
Most of this new spectrum involves sharing with incumbents, mostly satellite companies, and the WRC accorded protections to minimise interference with satellite transmissions. However, according to the satellite industry the level of protection proposed by the WRC falls significantly short of that demanded by satellite operators. For example, the weather satellite community maintains that the WRC-19 decision will significantly degrade the accuracy of weather data collected in the 24 GHz range, even though the WRC agreed to phase-in more stringent limits on 5G equipment deployed after the 1st September 2027.
An important part of every WRC conference is agreeing the agenda for the next WRC meeting, which will be held in 2023. For the mobile industry, the priority is to see more C-Band spectrum re-purposed for 5G cellular services. The C-band encompasses 800 MHz of spectrum between 3.3-4.3 GHz and is well-suited to 5G, with some countries calling for half or even all of the band to be allocated on a global level during the 2023 WRC meeting. Many countries are already deploying 5G in C-band frequencies and the FCC in the US has vowed to auction some C-band spectrum before the end of 2020.
The mobile industry will also target the 6 GHz band (6,425-7,125 MHz) at WRC-23. This is an attractive solution to complement current mid-band spectrum as there is a good balance between coverage and capacity in the band and the band can support large contiguous blocks (up to 1,200 MHz).
Although the mobile industry was generally positive on the outcome of WRC-19 overall, the same cannot be said for the satellite industry, which will be under further pressure to cede spectrum in 2023. In future, the scarcity of spectrum, coupled with the increasing demand from a raft of new applications such as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS), Train/Trackside Radio Communications, Radio Local Area Networks (RLANs), etc. will also be a challenge for the mobile industry in its quest for more spectrum. With significantly more competition on the horizon, it is likely that there will be much more focus on developing technologies for spectrum sharing in the intervening years between 2019 and 2023.