WRC-23 wraps up with ‘groundbreaking’ consensus on spectrum harmonization

The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) has concluded today (December 20, Wednesday) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates with groundbreaking revisions to the governing treaty on the use of spectrums. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has agreed on revisions on utilizing radio frequencies for technology and innovation both on Earth and in space.

​​​​​The new agreement to the Radio Regulations identifies new frequencies to “deepen global connectivity” and “enhance safety at sea, in the air, and on land.”

“WRC-23 puts the world on a solid path towards a more connected, sustainable, equitable, and inclusive digital future for all,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU Secretary-General. “Key regulatory achievements on the spectrum for space, science, and terrestrial radio services build on the momentum of ITU’s ongoing work to achieve universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation,” ITU said in a statement.

151​ Member States signed the WRC-23 Final Acts. These comprise the decisions made at the conference including revisions, resolutions, and all.

WRC-2023: A grand testament to the spirit of cooperation and compromise

“The agreements reached at the WRC-23 are a testament to the unwavering spirit of cooperation and compromise among all of our members,” said Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “Navigating the complexities of spectrum sharing to update the Radio Regulations has helped us forge a path that provides a stable, predictable regulatory environment essential for the development of innovative radiocommunication services for all.”

The Conference Chair, H.E. Eng. Mohammed Al Ramsi from the United Arab Emirates chaired the WRC-23 discussions along with assistance from six committee chairs: Basebi Mosinyi (Botswana); Cindy Cook (Canada); Hiroyuki Atarashi (Japan); Anna Marklund (Sweden); Abdouramane El Hadjar (Cameroon); and Christian Rissone (France).

The conference was held in Dubai from 20 November to 15 December and hosted by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) of the UAE.

Changes to ITU Radio Regulations

The new changes seek to promote the expansion of broadband connectivity and develop more mobile services keeping in mind the growth of existing technology of 4G, and fast-developing 5G, and its successor 6G. The ITU  has determined new spectrums for their global applications. This includes 3 300-3 400 megahertz (MHz), 3 600-3 800 MHz, 4 800-4 990 MHz, and 6 425-7 125 MHz frequency bands in multiple states and regions. Read this: 5G advantages: Fast speed, more connected devices, network slicing, and more


WRC-2023 also determined 2 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands for high-altitude platforms such as IMT base stations (HIBS) and has set regulations for their operations. The High-altitude IMT Base Station (HIBS) provides an innovative platform for mobile broadband with minimal infrastructure using the same frequencies and devices as IMT mobile networks. HIBS is seen as a potential vital contributor to bridging the digital divide in remote and rural areas and offers connectivity during emergencies including natural disasters.

The WRC-23 also identified new spectrum resources for non-geostationary fixed-satellite service Earth Stations in Motions (ESIMs). These new radio frequencies will contribute to offering high-speed broadband connectivity onboard aircraft, trains, vehicles, etc. These services are also critically relevant where traditional cellular infrastructure is unable to provide communication or at dead zones where mobile networks are not available.

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WRC-23 has also taken concrete regulatory actions to modernize the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) including the implementation of e-navigation systems to enhance distress and safety communications at sea.

“Across the globe, numerous countries, institutions, and companies eagerly anticipate the outcomes of this conference,” said Al Ramsi, Chair of WRC-23 and Deputy Director-General for the Telecommunication Sector of TDRA. “We have emerged from this conference with significant results that contribute to the advancement of numerous radio services, serving the interests of countries, societies, and humanity at large.”

WRC-23 key resolutions

In total, WRC-23 gave consent to 43 new resolutions and revised 56 existing ones while suppressing 33 resolutions. Here are the key WRC-23 outcomes:

  • Alotting additional spectrums for passive Earth exploration satellite services that will enable advanced ice cloud measurements for better weather forecasting and climate monitoring.
  • Provision of new frequencies to the aviation industry for aeronautical mobile satellite services (117.975-137 MHz) to enhance bi-directional communication via non-GSO satellite systems for pilots and air traffic controllers.
  • Regulatory actions for the provision of inter-satellite links to enable data availability in near-real time. It shall also enhance the availability and value of instrument data for low-latency applications such as weather forecasting and disaster risk reduction.
  • Approval of a recommendation by the Radio Regulations Board to allow 41 countries to acquire new and usable orbital resources for satellite broadcasting. The countries were unable to use their assigned orbital slots in recent years due to factors such as lack of coordination and interference from other satellite networks. The decision aims to enable countries to implement subregional satellite systems. 

What Does Spectrum Harmonization Mean?

In communication, spectrum harmonization refers to the uniform allocation of radio frequency resources across an entire region. This practice transcends state or regional boundaries as radio waves can’t be stopped from reaching a certain area. So, it sees the world as a global village. The value of spectrum harmonization lies in its benefits. It reduces the frequency interferences along borders and enables international roaming and interoperability. As a result, service providers have to spend less on telecom infrastructure and hence more affordable telecom services to the end-users.

FCC US praises the revisions

Federal Communications Commission shortly known as FCC, the US regulator for communication services was at home with the revisions and adoptions of new policies, particularly about 6G and space exploration projects. “The WRC was not just weeks of work in Dubai, but also years of preparation by the FCC, experts across the government, and our telecommunications industry,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

“The delegation’s accomplishments will promote innovation in unlicensed spectrum including Wi-Fi, support 5G connectivity, pave the way for 6G, and bolster U.S. leadership in the growing space economy. We now look forward to getting to work on preparations for WRC-27,” she added.

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WiFi communication benefits

The decision made at the WRC-2023 also received high praise from the WiFi advocates, especially regarding the use of the upper 6 GHz band. “While deciding to identify the upper 6 GHz spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) in Europe, Africa, and a few other countries, the conference adopted an international treaty provision to explicitly recognize that this spectrum is used by wireless access systems such as Wi-Fi,” Wi-Fi Alliance noted.

6 GHz frequencies are now the harmonized home for 5G- GSMA lauds new decisions

GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications) also was in praise for the WRC-2023 decisions over the use of the 6 GHz spectrum for 5G technologies.

The GSMA observed that “countries representing more than 60% of the world’s population [asking] to be included in the identification of this band for licensed mobile at WRC-23,” and it declared that “6 GHz spectrum is now the harmonized home for the expansion of mobile capacity for 5G-Advanced and beyond.”

5G network
5G network

“WRC-23 has provided a clear roadmap for mobile services to continue to evolve and expand for the benefit of billions across the globe,” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA. “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.” 

Similarly, CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) admired the spectrum harmonization decision. CTIA President/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker stated that the association appreciated the decision to harmonize new spectrum bands for 5G and upcoming technologies particularly, the “critical lower 3 GHz band and the 7/8 GHz bands.”

She added “It is essential that the United States takes this opportunity now to align our domestic policies with other countries around the world and establish a pipeline of mid-band spectrum for licensed commercial use so that we can unlock economies of scale, fuel new sources of growth and innovation, and strengthen our influence and future leadership in the global wireless ecosystem. The world is moving ahead, and the United States must keep pace.”

In conclusion of the WRC-23, the ITU has also outlined the roadmap for the future including the allocation of new spectrums for direct connectivity between space BTS and earthly devices and regulations for the non-geostationary mobile-satellite systems.

Over 3,900 delegates from 163 Member States attended WRC-23, including 88 ​ministerial-level participants. Women made up 22 percent of all WRC-23 delegates, an increase from 18​ percent at WRC-19 in 2019.

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