Mobility at a Crossroads at WRC-23

Luciana Camargos

GSMA’s Head of Spectrum

There are choices to be made. 

The ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in Dubai this year can provide pillars of development that build the roadmap to a future of universal connectivity. The WRC is a UN treaty conference where member states can choose to change the way spectrum governs future connectivity. 

Equally, the WRC can choose to change nothing. 

WRC-23 can deliver digital equality, providing the mobile ecosystem with the spectrum needed to bridge the divide between rich and poor, urban and rural. It can, also, choose not to do this. 

The conference can provide capacity for expanding mobile sustainably and affordably into the 2030s, it can harmonise bands widely, delivering scale and lowering device costs. 

Or the status quo can remain. 

Spectrum is in demand everywhere and no bands are empty. Doing nothing – voting for ‘no change’ in ITU-speak, is certainly the simplest option. 

However, for the mobile industry doing nothing is not a possibility: the opportunity to have a genuine impact on how people live and work is clear.  45% of the world remains unconnected and for us that figure is a problem that needs solving. Nobody should be left behind in the digital age and that means moving forward, developing the means to create change.

The 45% of the world that is unconnected falls into two categories – those who live outside mobile networks (the coverage gap), and those who live within a mobile footprint but do not use it (the usage gap). As regulators come to WRC-23, we hope they understand that the usage gap, around 40% of the population, is by far the larger of these. Some of the causes of the usage gap – affordability and usability, are problems that WRC-23 can help with.

Mid-band spectrum capacity is on the table and the capacity in these frequencies can govern the quality of mobile for a lot of the world’s population. Those living in population centres depend on mid-band coverage. Enough mid-band delivers the capacity for high-quality networks and does so without excessive base station densification – meaning lower costs. Quality and affordability can be one of the benefits of a successful WRC-23. These factors will be enhanced by positive decisions on harmonising 3.5 GHz and developing 6 GHz for mobile use with an IMT identification at WRC-23. 

3.5 GHz is the 5G launch band and has consistently been responsible for the majority of 5G launches. This band needs to be fully exploited to maximise network efficiency and for consumers to benefit from ecosystem scale and device affordability. 6 GHz, meanwhile, is the pathway for mobile expansion towards the end of this decade and beyond. 

Digital equality exists between countries and within them. Data usage is twice as large in high-income countries (HICs) than in low to middle income countries (LMICs), except for India. Data usage and network quality are increasing everywhere in the world, but there is a persistent gap between high- and lower-income countries. Regulators must use WRC-23 to enable their mobile markets to provide the highest quality at the lowest cost for the consumer. 

We also need to look after digital inequality within countries: adults living in rural areas are 33% less likely than those living in urban areas to use mobile internet. At WRC-23 EMEA countries, the ITU’s Region 1, have an important tool at their disposal to help raise the quality of rural mobile without excess network densification and cost: low-band spectrum. 

For EMEA, this WRC is considering the future use of low-band spectrum at 470-694 MHz. This gives a real opportunity to boost rural 5G quality and look to the future. Download speeds are intrinsically linked to spectrum, and even with 700, 800 and 900 MHz spectrum assigned, adding 600 MHz will give a 35% speed increase. A positive decision will not remove all the challenges to offering rural connectivity, but it will be a significant development tool for getting broadband – and its associated socio-economic benefits[1] – into the hands of more rural consumers. 

The 470-694 MHz band has historically been used for digital TV (DTT) services, but there is room for DTT to flourish and mobile to have a share[2]. Paradoxically, the areas which most rely on mobile for a rural connectivity lifeline are finding this decision the hardest. Sub-Saharan Africa, where the digital TV networks are relatively new, is finding the decision to make change difficult. But there is hope: pioneer countries including Nigeria are leading the way with support for this band.

Decisions at WRC are always hard, but we are at a crossroads. We can choose to connect the remaining 45% or decide that doing other things is more important. For us at the GSMA, we believe that resolving this historical wrong is something worth striving for. 

Luciana Camargos

GSMA’s Head of Spectrum

Luciana Camargos is the GSMA’s Head of Spectrum. She directs the GSMA’s range of advocacy issues on public policy relating to spectrum with national governments and multilateral organisations. 

Luciana’s career began with Brazilian regulator Anatel where she worked as part of the board advisory team. She joined the GSMA in 2012, where she has continued to be active in shaping the future of mobile services at international fora such as the ITU, CITEL and other international organisations. 

She has chaired regulatory groups charged with developing communications regulation at the ITU and in regional organisations. She is an active supporter of the role of women in technology and is a former chair of the ITU’s Network of Women.

Luciana earned an MBA in telecommunications from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, and a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Brasilia.



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