Partner content: The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) in November will decide what spectrum should be investigated for 6G
When the World Radiocommunication Conference starts in Dubai mid-November, it has many crucial decisions to make, including which spectrum to explore for 6G. This in turn will determine how our networks will be built, how they will be used and ultimately who they will serve.
The WRC’s spectrum recommendations have an enormous impact on the communications industry, economies around the world and people’s everyday lives. Past decisions to harmonise spectrum are why we can roam and enjoy the internet in our pockets almost anywhere in the world.
The WRC’s past decisions helped created economies of scale in network-infrastructure and device markets, so every country can afford mobile networks to connect their populations. The ambitious social agendas of many countries often hinge on access to reliable and inexpensive connectivity, which the WRC plays a major role in securing.
The importance of decisions now
This year, the WRC faces a landmark decision regarding 6G.
The WRC’s voting membership consists of all the state communications administrations in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), itself part of the United Nations. The members will decide which bands are to be studied for 6G wireless systems.
The spectrum they choose will become the frontrunner for 6G spectrum harmonisation across the globe and almost certainly be ratified into the UN’s Radio Regulations treaty which governs the use of airwaves internationally. It will also determine the direction of 6G research and standards work for the remainder of the decade.
The implications are significant: it will determine how 6G systems are designed and built; and the amount of investment service providers will need to deploy 6G. It’s about radio propagation – lower frequencies travel further than higher-frequency signals when transmitted at the same power. Cell sites in lower-frequency bands can be spaced further apart than those in higher-frequency networks. This means there will be substantial cost savings in deploying 6G in lower spectrum.
Most of the spectrum the WRC is considering for 6G study falls within upper-mid-range from 7GHz to 15GHz, often referred to as the Golden Bands because they would allow operators to reuse cell sites to build out 6G networks while greatly expanding their capacity.
I applaud the WRC’s membership for their foresight in targeting the Golden Bands for study but there are further, important decisions. First, as the name implies, they account for several, separate bands and the WRC must decide which ones to explore for 6G. I encourage the WRC to select as many of them as possible in as many regions as possible to ensure we have adequate capacity to roll out 6G globally and a high level of harmonisation between regions.
Second, some portions of the Golden Bands are more “golden” than others. In particular, 7GHz to 8GHz, is best suited to 6G. It has the best propagation of all the Golden Bands plus similarities to spectrum used for 5G, making it a known quantity for 6G deployments.
According to research by Nokia, soon to be published, 6G deployed at 7-8 GHz would provide comparable cell-edge throughput to 5G deployed at 3.5 GHz spectrum. The study also found that the 10-13GHz band would also be a strong choice for 6G.
Making this band the bedrock of global 6G roll-outs would ensure we get high-performing networks for much lower investment and make the transition from 5G to 6G simpler.
Implications for the future of 5G
Third, the WRC will make a key decision on the future of 5G that will affect 6G’s future. The WRC’s membership will vote on whether to allocate the upper 6GHz band for 5G services (see How much spectrum will Wi-Fi win at Wireless Global Congress and WRC? and Vodafone 5G test hits 5Gbps outside, 2Gbps inside on 6GHz band).
Securing the upper 6GHz bandwidth would ensure that we can deliver new features for 5G like ultra-broadband and ultra-low latency. Equally importantly, the band could be repurposed for 6G. As the upper 6GHz is adjacent to the 7-8 GHz band, service provides could eventually combine them to tap into larger swathes of harmonised spectrum.
Environment for ecosystem
When 6G emerges at the end of this decade, it promises to alter the very notion of a network, fusing the digital and physical. It will ‘sense’ our surroundings, open up new possibilities for devices and services, and should simplify the complexity of the interconnected world. To bring that vision to life, we must create a global ecosystem in which 6G can thrive and WRC’s spectrum decisions will have a huge bearing on whether we succeed.