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ITU Decides Upper 6GHz Band is for Mobile Broadband, Sort Of UPDATE

Monday, Dec 18th, 2023 (8:52 am) - Score 6,200
telecommunication tower a falling signal on the city

The ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 came to an end last week and one of its key decisions was to announce that the Upper 6GHz radio spectrum band (6425 to 7125MHz) can be used for mobile (5G and 6G), but also allows regulators like Ofcom in the UK to exploring a hybrid approach alongside WiFi.

Just to recap. Ofcom has already made the Lower part (5925 to 6425MHz) of the 6GHz band available for WiFi under the new WiFi 6E, WiFi 7 and future standards (here), but the Upper part has remained the subject of some debate. Mobile operators wanted to harness it (licensed) to deliver faster 5G based mobile speeds, while others say it should go toward licence-exempt consumer WiFi.

Both sides of the debate have been able to field strong arguments and as a result Ofcom have largely opted to play it safe by waiting to see what the WRC-23 would deliver. But at the end of last week the WRC-23 finally decided that the Upper 6GHz spectrum band is now the harmonised home for the expansion of mobile capacity for 5G-Advanced and beyond, although it’s not quite that clear-cut.

However, the decision doesn’t prevent national regulators from doing something different, and indeed Ofcom is currently still exploring the option of “hybrid sharing” (details). This could potentially enable, with some performance caveats (co-existence without causing interference is a challenge), the use of both Wi-Fi and mobile in the Upper 6GHz band.

This is because the IMT identification for the Upper 6GHz band in all regions is just for the 100MHz portion 7025-7125 MHz. Due to this, we cannot say that the whole of the Upper 6GHz band was identified in all regions for mobile (in regions 2 and 3, a total of only four countries were identified for the 6425 to 7025MHz portion).

John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, said:

“WRC-23 has provided a clear roadmap for mobile services to continue to evolve and expand for the benefit of billions across the globe. The GSMA believes that no-one should be left behind in the digital age and the decisions of WRC-23 will allow us to deliver a brighter future where mobile brings communities together, delivers industrial agility and provides economic growth. Implementation of the WRC-23 decisions will support global digital ambitions, deliver greater digital equality and unlock the full power of connectivity.”

In addition, the WRC-23 also defined mobile use of more low-band spectrum in the 470-694MHz band in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). Low bands like this are good for improving mobile coverage in rural areas as they can reach much further, but they won’t improve mobile broadband speeds much due to the limited amount of spectrum frequency they hold.

In the UK, Ofcom has already freed down to the 700MHz (694-790MHz) band for use by mobile networks, which shifted some Digital Terrestrial TV (DTTV) services into the 600MHz band and lower (starting around 470MHz). The reality is that DTTV is going to be around for a fair few years yet, but once it does end (i.e. people have shifted to broadband-based TV) then it looks increasingly likely that the bands will be used for mobile.

UPDATE 19th Dec 2023

We’ve had an update from Ofcom.

Ofcom spokesperson:

“We welcome the WRC-23’s decision on IMT identification for upper 6 GHz. We have been championing the exploration of hybrid use (use for both mobile and Wi-Fi) in collaboration with CEPT administrations and industry, as we see potential benefits for consumers.

Ofcom – representing the UK – and our counterparts across Europe, successfully argued for potential use for both services to be recognised in the IMT identification text. This is an important milestone in making more spectrum available, and our work on this band will continue next year.”

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
17 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ben says:

    It’s a shame that the mobile networks “won” this one — this means that we only have enough bandwidth for a single(!) 320MHz channel, or three 160MHz channels. I guess this will limit the development of high speed home WiFi, and therefore demand for connections beyond gigabit.

  2. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    This is a massive disappointment.
    It seems the world wants the MNOs [mobile network operators] to have rule over all frequency blocks.
    We could really use more WiFi spectrum.

    I don’t think the MNOs are making full use of the power level outputs that are permitted anyway. I have LTE Discovery and Cellmapper for all the info on the masts and the cells.

    1. Avatar photo Jez says:

      At least at home / business you can run Ethernet to eliminate WiFi on PCs and devices that are likely to be able to leverage higher throughput. Can’t exactly do that out in the wilds, so personally I’d prioritise mobile broadband over fixed broadband when it comes to spectrum availability.

    2. Avatar photo Ben says:

      I highly doubt that upper 6GHz will be any good “out in the wilds”.

    3. Avatar photo Jez says:

      Well by that I mean anywhere it’s useful, towns, cities, anywhere not at home. High density cells.

  3. Avatar photo Mike80 says:

    The actual wording from the WRC-23 Final Acts document states – and note the second paragraph
    —–

    The frequency bands 6 425-7 125 MHz in Region 1 and 7 025-7 125 MHz in Region 3 are identified for use by administrations wishing to implement the terrestrial component of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT). This identification does not preclude the use of these frequency bands by any application of the services to which they are allocated and does not establish priority in the Radio Regulations. Resolution COM4/7 (WRC-23) applies.

    The frequency bands are also used for the implementation of wireless access systems (WAS), including radio local area networks (RLANs).

    ——-

    The above article is based on the GSMA press release – credit for being first to release, but claiming full victory when the reality is different.

    Here’s the counter-argument: US wi-fi industry declares victory: https://www.fiercewireless.com/tech/us-wi-fi-industry-declares-victory-wrc-23?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    The low-band spectrum they’ve won in ITU Region 1 is for several countries in the Middle East only. In Europe, it’s merely secondary allocation, alongside PMSE.

    It will be reviewed in WRC-31.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      As the article says, “the decision doesn’t prevent Ofcom from doing something different”, although generally regulators tend to favour harmonisation, for hopefully obvious reasons, and try not to steer too far away from it. In the USA, they already released the upper band for WiFi, which happened before WRC-23 but does now leave them in a bit of an awkward position.

    2. Avatar photo Mike80 says:

      https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-r/opb/act/R-ACT-WRC.15-2023-PDF-E.pdf pages 37-39, MOBILE and FIXED are both in capitals, so co-primary.

      This means no tricky situation: each administration can do what they see fit with the spectrum providing there’s co-ordination to prevent interference across national boundaries. It’s all down to how powerful the lobbying is.

    3. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

      @MArk JAckson
      On the contrary, the US is the largest market in the world. The FCC decision (backed by the likes of Apple, Cisco, Intel, Google, Broadcom, Meta) means that there is already a thriving 6Ghz wifi ecosystem developing, which is set to record to new heights with wifi 7 around the corner.
      Contrast that with 5G, where regulators haven’t even handed out other bands reserved for mobile, and MNOs haven’t come close to utilising the spectrum they have already been allocated. It is estimated that it would take a until well into the next decade for 6Ghz spectrum to begin to be utilised for 5G/6G, and by that time the Wi-Fi ecosystem will be huge in that band.
      And really for the 6Ghz band to be useful for mobile, it needs the entire band allocated not just the upper portion.
      At 6Ghz, the outcomes are similar for wi-fi access points and mobile, when it comes to real world throughput, latency, and range. The big difference being that a Wi-fi 7 access point will be able to be deployed at a fraction of the cost of a 5G small cell.
      All of this over the past month was a play by the mobile industry to slow down the thriving wi-fi eco system based on openroaming, and Wi-Fi calling etc.. And their lobbying strength is off the back of historically paying ludicrous sums for spectrum.
      I cant see them paying these ludicrous sums for a small chuck of upper 6Ghz, in practice.

      Your headline that ‘the world’ has decided the upper band should be used for mobile, is misleading. Its around 60% of the world, and the body of the article ‘should’ should be changed for ‘can’ be used for mobile.

      All this isn’t some sort of tedious topic, its something very very important where a thriving wi-fi ecosystem, which everyone uses and usage is growing by an order of magnitude each compared to 5G, actually requires more spectrum. Whereas 5G is a massive disappointment of over hyped pie in the sky outcomes and massive under utilisation.

      You only have to look at the country where 5G standalone has been deployed at a scale before anywhere else to see it fails to deliver on its investment.
      https://www.theregister.com/2023/08/21/sk_telecom_5g_disappointed/

    4. Avatar photo TDR says:

      Just to correct the above, the EU is the largest market bar China and India with >500 million consumers.

  4. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

    Is this going to be a channel 13 problem all over again? For those unaware channel 13 on 2.4Ghz (and 14 in some Asian countries I believe) only work when a Wifi device is 100% aware it is not in the US and everything defaults to not using it making the extra channel effectively useless for 99% of people (I tried using it previously and you’d always have something that wouldn’t use it no matter what you did). I get this is a pain but going our own way in the UK is not really going to help anyone.

    1. Avatar photo Mike80 says:

      I’m afraid there will be territorial differences, so your router will need to know where in the world it’s operating.

      ITU Region 2, which includes North and South America, only Brazil and Mexico gained an allocation to choose to use the spectrum for mobile, as per 5.6A12 of the ITU WRC Final Acts, elsewhere it’s wi-fi.

      In ITU Region 1 (our region) discussions will need to take place between administrations. As both wi-fi and mobile have co-primary allocations, the band could be chunked 50:50 for example.

      The World has definitely not decided to use 6GHz for mobile, rather it’s a fudge solution that means everyone can claim they’ve won.

    2. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

      @Mike80 – still feel like a technical mess waiting to happen. Got a phone from the US and gone to the UK for holiday – weirdly half the wifi doesn’t work in the UK… Whos going to know you need to change some locale setting to fix it!

  5. Avatar photo Kushan says:

    Contrary to some complaints here, I don’t see a problem with this. I’m all for a drive for faster than gigabit home connections but honestly I have no issues with my home wifi at the moment, but constant issues with mobile coverage and bandwidth when out and about.

    There’s bigger problems with wifi from people generally just not using adequate equipment, or ISPs shipping sub-par hubs that don’t get the right coverage. All the spectrum in the world won’t fix that, but better equipment using today’s bandwidth can already push multi-gigabit bandwidth to several clients at once.

    Meanwhile just trying to read the news stood at the bus stop or while on a train is still utterly futile half the time. I’m aware that the technology exists today to solve that problem as well, but anything that makes it more bearable is a win for me.

    1. Avatar photo S S says:

      I don’t think it will solve coverage… That could be solved now by the different network operators. As far as the tech goes, as we go higher in frequency do the antennas become less efficient? I mean we would have to up the output power for range? Or we would have to have multiple antennas to cover the same area one antenna would have done on a lower frequency? I mean the higher the frequency, the more power required to transmit at distance.

    2. Avatar photo Ben says:

      I’d be more sympathetic if operators were making full use of their existing spectrum, but they’re not… (plus sometimes the issue is lack of backhaul, not lack of spectrum)

  6. Avatar photo UnitedJokedom says:

    All these super duper allocations and reallocations of radio spectrum etc and we dont even get a decent signal, even outdoors in major towns and cities in the UK lol

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