The 4-yearly ITU World Radio Congress (WRC’19) which sets world policy on radio spectrum, most critically 5G this time, has just ended. What agreements were reached, and what do they mean for traditional telcos, new telcos, telco-sector vendors and regulators?
Spectrum concerns reach far beyond traditional telecoms
We last had an in-depth look at spectrum policy and its implications for telcos almost three years ago, in our report on 5G spectrum in January 2017. (Please refer to that report for general background information on the ways that spectrum is organised and allocated for mobile and wireless networks).
That report has proven prescient:
“5G development and deployment is largely happening between WRC-15 and WRC-19. By November 2019’s event, a lot of spectrum decisions may have been taken locally, early networks deployed, and thus given to ITU’s delegates as a “fait accompli”. As well as bringing in many new radio technologies and innovations, the new focus on IoT, “network slicing” and industry verticals complicates matters still further. For instance, many of the most-touted new use-cases are likely to occur indoors, or on industrial sites – not outside “in public spaces” where mobile operators can exert most control and oversight. Potentially, new models such as shared licensing of spectrum are needed, with large companies running their own on-site private 5G networks”.
This has largely been reflected in the outcome of events. Today, we have had early launches of around 50 5G networks worldwide, from the US to South Korea to Ireland. These use a mix of bands that are about to be discussed by ITU at WRC, and others that were not even supposed to be in consideration, such as the US and Korean 28GHz band. Meanwhile, as we recently discussed in our Private/Vertical Networks report, various countries have started awarding spectrum to “non-public networks”, on a localised basis. The US CBRS band, the German industrial 5G allocation and various different approaches taken in the UK exemplify this. This raises the question of whether the current ITU processes are really “fit for purpose” for the modern wireless industry. Especially given the growing levels of geopolitical controversy in many areas of the economy, we may see the WRC process becoming increasingly side-lined in future policy discussions.
Given that ITU’s World Radio Congress has recently concluded – and has been attended or closely watched by the telco and wider spectrum community, this seems to be a good time to revisit the topic – which has also cropped up in our recent work on 5G launches, indoor wireless, and private networks.