WRC 2023 will decide the fate of 6G
By Eiman Mohyeldin
2 November 2023
When the World Radiocommunication Conference starts in mid-November, it has a crucial decision to make. It will decide what spectrum to explore for 6G in the future, which in turn will determine how our networks will be built, how they will be used and ultimately whom they will serve.
Spectrum is the lifeblood of all wireless networking. The spectrum recommendations the WRC makes have an enormous impact on not just the communications industry, but also global economies and people’s everyday lives.
Because of the spectrum-harmonization choices of past WRCs, we are now able to roam with the same mobile phone – and enjoy the internet in our pockets – almost anywhere in the world. The WRC’s decisions have created economies of scale in the network-infrastructure and device markets, ensuring that every country in the world can afford mobile networks to connect their populations. And 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.
This year, the WRC faces an equally important decision on 6G.
The WRC’s voting membership, which consists of all the state communications administrations in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), will decide on bands to be studied for future 6G wireless systems. The spectrum they choose will become the frontrunner for 6G spectrum harmonization 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 of this are significant as it will determine how 6G systems are designed and built and the amount of investment service providers will need to make to deploy 6G networks. Simply put, it’s about radio propagation. Radio waves at 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.
The good news is the majority of the spectrum the WRC is considering for 6G study falls within upper-mid-range from 7 GHz to 15 GHz. At Nokia, we call this range the “Golden Bands” – and for good reason.
The characteristics of the frequencies in the Golden Bands would allow operators to reuse their existing cell sites to build their future 6G networks while greatly expanding their capacity.
I applaud the WRC’s membership for their foresight in targeting the Golden Bands for study. That said, there are still some very important decisions that the WRC will need to make.
First of all, the Golden Bands – as the name implies – account for several separate bands. The WRC will decide which of these individual bands to explore for 6G. I encourage the WRC to select for study as many of these bands as possible in as many regions as possible. Doing so would ensure that we have adequate capacity to rollout 6G globally as well as have a high level of 6G spectrum harmonization between regions.
Second, there are some portions of the Golden Bands that are more “golden” than others. In particular, the lowest band, 7 GHz to 8 GHz, is the most ideally suited for 6G. This band not only has the best propagation of all Golden Bands, but it also has several similarities to spectrum currently used for 5G, making it a known quantity for future 6G rollouts. According to a forthcoming Nokia study, 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 10-13 GHz band would also be a strong choice for 6G.
For these reasons, I highly recommend that the WRC prioritize the 7-8 GHz band when identifying which of the Golden Bands to pursue. Making this band the bedrock of global 6G rollouts would ensure we get high-performing networks for much lower investment and make the transition from 5G to 6G that much simpler.
Third, the WRC will make a key decision on the future of 5G that will also have an impact on 6G’s future. The WRC’s membership will vote on whether to allocate the upper 6GHz band for 5G services. The upper 6 GHz would ensure that we can deliver on new 5G features like ultra-broadband and ultra-low latency. But equally important is the fact that the band could be repurposed for 6G in the future. As the upper 6 GHz sits right next to the 7-8 GHz band, service provides could eventually combine them to tap into larger swathes of harmonized spectrum in the future.
To sum up, the WRC in the coming month will play a pivotal role in shaping 6G’s future. It can paint a very bright future for 6G globally, indeed, if it makes the right decisions on which and how much spectrum to designate to study for 6G. I and my colleagues at Nokia encourage the WRC to pursue as many of the Golden Bands as possible for future 6G use and to prioritize the most golden of the Golden Bands above all else. Finally, the WRC should help make the future transition from 5G to 6G as easy as possible by allocating the upper 6 GHz band for mobile broadband services.
When 6G emerges at the end of the decade, it will alter the very notion of a network. 6G will fuse digital and physical realities.
It will sense our surroundings, open up new possibilities for devices and services, and simplify the enormous complexity of the interconnected world. But to bring that vision to life, we must create a global ecosystem in which 6G can thrive. The spectrum decisions the WRC will make in 2023 will have a huge bearing on whether we can create that flourishing ecosystem in the next decade.
A version of this article first ran on Mobile Europe
About Eiman Mohyeldin
Eiman Mohyeldin is the global Head of Spectrum Standardization for Nokia, responsible for defining and executing Nokia's spectrum strategy and leading Nokia's engagement on spectrum matters with customers, regulators authorities and partners in the ecosystem worldwide. She is actively involved in the World Radio Conference (WRC) process, participating in the WRC Conferences and preparatory meetings (CPM). Eiman has also contributed and led groups for the IMT technology process (4G, 5G and recently the 6G) in ITU and CEPT. Eiman is Co-Coordinator in CEPT NOW4WRC23 promoting gender equity and parity in CEPT and ITU.
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