Delegates at World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15) had a surprisingly high level of agreement around the fate of the 700MHz and sub-700 MHz bands.
When you gather thousands of engineers and regulators in one place for three weeks to review and revise a complex conundrum, such as how to allocate sparse spectrum globally for different wireless communications networks and applications, compromise is paramount.
Such was the case at the World Radiocommunications Conference that convened in Geneva November 2–27 under the auspices of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) — the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technologies. Held every four years, WRC-15 inevitably had to work to a broad agenda, much of which was already decided at the conclusion of the last outing.
Not everyone got their way, with some difficult balancing acts being played out trying to juggle needs and concerns of players in hugely important and growing areas such as mobile broadband, satellite communications, broadcasting, emergency communications and disaster relief and road safety.
As predicted in a previous post there was lively interest in and a surprisingly high level of agreement in deliberations around the fate of the 700MHz and sub-700 MHz bands.
“The outcome was as satisfactory as we could have expected as regards more spectrum for mobile broadband, while keeping broadcasters satisfied. There was a lot of pressure on them not to yield,” Mike Goddard, International Spectrum Policy Adviser for consultancy Real Wireless told EE Times.
Goddard was for long CEO of the UK’s Radio Communications Agency and also led the UK delegation to the WRC between 1987 and 2007. “As usual, a lot of decisions were left to the last moment, with delegations reluctant to give way on some key decisions, and it got a bit crazy in the end, but overall, I would say it was a successful WRC, with very important conclusions and a clear and ambitious view of the topics we need to address at WRC 2019,” said Goddard.
In addition to confirming the use of the 700 MHz band (technically 694 to 790 MHz) for mobile broadband services in ITU Region 1, which includes Europe, Africa, the Middle east and Central Asia, delegates also agreed to harmonize 200 MHz of the C-band (3.4 to 3.6 GHz) to improve capacity in urban areas and used in small cells, and the L-band (1427-1518 MHz) to improve overall coverage and better capacity.
However, despite intense lobbying from mobile broadband groups, delegates from some 150 countries decided against opening up more sub-700 MHz spectrum to the sector, ensuring that UHF spectrum (470 MHz to 690 MHz) will remain exclusively allocated to terrestrial TV services in Region1, for at least a decade. Delegates decided to review the use of these bands not at the next WRC, but the one planned for 2023.
Reacting to the vote, Simon Fell, the European Broadcasting Union’s director of technology and innovation said in a statement that hinted of a sigh of relief: “The worldwide community of broadcasters welcomes this important decision. So should the millions of viewers who rely on digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to watch TV. Now that we have certainty on access to spectrum, the broadcasting industry can complete the transition to fully digital TV broadcasting. “
So the mobile broadband sector now has, at least in the short to medium term, three globally harmonized bands which, according to a statement from John Giusti, chief regulatory officer of the GSMA, represents “a major step forward in meeting the growing demand from citizens worldwide for mobile broadband." Such harmonization is clearly a huge step to achieve low cost networks and devices for mobile broadband, as well as improved roaming so as to reach poorly served areas.
Of course North American carriers have already started rolling out LTE services deploying 700 MHz. And as Goddard noted, auctions of the spectrum are already on the radar of many European countries. Indeed France started its auction last week and Germany has already allocated spectrum to a variety of carriers, despite the fact frequencies will not be freed up before the end of the decade.
And there is little doubt 700MHz harmonization will be a key feature in operators’ plans to begin rolling out 5G services.
“The C-band is also likely to be used for 5G. The ITU has not specified in any way the technologies that will be used, but the topics will certainly feature in a big way at the next WRC in 2019. Several issues have already been agreed in the agenda for that Conference”, said Goddard.
Some of these relate to the high frequency bands that will need to be deployed for 5G services, mainly above 24 GHz. “One of the biggest issues facing those developing 5G is to identify large chunks of spectrum. One important band could be between 31.8 to 33.4 GHz, in particular for short range applications,” Goddard told EE Times.
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