WRC-23: Readout and implications for telcos

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World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 gave telcos some but not all of what they wanted: progress on 5G and 6G spectrum; but more spectrum will need to be shared in future.

World Radiocommunication Conference 2023

This report examines the key issues and outcomes of the WRC-23 event held in Dubai, UAE, during November and December 2023. They are intended to describe, harmonise and regulate spectrum usage across the world, so that various uses of frequency resources can coexist, without undue interference either between each other, or across borders.

Often, bands are not completely harmonised, but may have different rules in different regions of the world. Sometimes exceptions or important secondary issues are highlighted in footnotes or annexes.

A secondary role of WRCs’ efforts is that governments, network operators, equipment vendors and others can avoid international fragmentation and leverage global economies of scale.

What is the ITU and why does it matter?

The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) is the world’s top-level body concerned with telecoms issues, standards and radio communications (principally spectrum) issues. It is an agency of the United Nations, and its members are the telecoms ministers of the nation states. See the below graphic.

In this report, we focus on one of the ITU’s three sectors: ITU-R and the importance and outcomes of its four-yearly World Radiocommunication Conference. WRC sets broad parameters that will feed through to things like 5G/6G spectrum allocations, and sets the wider competitive/regulatory context between MNOs, satellite operators, broadcasters, governments, Wi-Fi industry and other radio spectrum stakeholders such as aviation, military and science.

The ITU’s top-level structure

Source: STL Partners

Often, WRC rules and studies concern particular regions of the world, with individual countries sometimes named in the many footnotes. The ITU has three global regions, of which two have single representative bodies (CITEL for the Americas  [Region 2] and APT for Asia-Pacific [Region 3]). Region 1, however, is made up of four separate regulatory bodies for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the CIS – CEPT, ASMG, ATU and RCC, respectively. See the below graph.

The ITU’s three global regions

Source: ITU

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There are many technology names (“services”) and acronyms that are used in the spectrum policy world (see the table below, where text in red indicates those most relevant to telecoms). Many of these relate to non-telecoms topics such as aviation and maritime systems. Some of the most important include:

  • IMT: International Mobile Telecommunications.
  • RLAN: Radio Local Area Network (which typically means Wi-Fi)
  • ISM: Industrial, Scientific, Medical – often called “unlicensed” spectrum
  • PMSE: Programme-Making and Special Events (microphones, cameras, etc.)

Note that the broad category of mobile services is often used synonymously with IMT. In ITU-speak, however, IMT is an application of mobile services.

Radiocommunication services and abbreviations in ITU Radio Regulations and common use

Note: Text in red indicates services and abbreviations most relevant to telecoms.
Source: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
    • Recommendations for key stakeholders
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
    • What is the ITU and why does it matter?
    • The WRC process
    • How is this relevant to telcos and CSPs?
    • Spectrum: A multi-stakeholder landscape
  • Summary of key WRC-23 outcomes
    • Overview
    • ITU-R Radiocommunication Assembly
    • Fit with geopolitics and regional regulation
  • Spectrum sharing: The big picture
    • Spectrum for 5G and 6G/IMT
    • IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications)
    • Overview of outcomes
    • 3-5GHz
    • UHF and broadcast
    • 6G
  • 6GHz: The most vitriolic WRC debate
    • Background: Growing demand and the radical US approach
    • Why WRC-23 mattered for 6GHz
    • Summary: What to expect
  • Satellite constellations
    • LEOs vs. GEOs
  • The agenda for WRC-27 and WRC-31
  • Conclusion
  • Index

Related research

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Technologies and industry terms referenced include: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dean Bubley

Dean Bubley

Dean Bubley

Associate Director

Dean is the founder of analyst and futurist firm, Disruptive Analysis and leader of the STL Partners Network Futures stream.