T.R. Dua, Director General, TAIPA and Chairman, ITU-APT

Key highlights of WRC-2019

The much awaited International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-2019) concluded on November 22, 2019 in Egypt, after four week-long deliberations, with several agreements surrounding future communication technologies, including 5G. Negotiators from all around the world, about 165 member states’ signed agreements that got listed in the Final Acts of the Radio Regulations, which is an international treaty governing the global use of radiofrequency spectrum. At the conference, ITU reached a consensus on additional radio frequency bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), known as IMT-2020, which will facilitate the development of 5G mobile networks.

One of the biggest tasks for WRC-2019 was to identify additional spectrum suitable for 5G. These additional frequency bands identified for IMT-2020 include 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 GHz, 45.5-47 GHz, 47.2-48.2 GHz and 66-71 GHz bands, which will be used to enhance mobile broadband, ultra-reliable and low-latency communications. WRC-2019 has adopted new, innovative conditions while identifying bands above 24 GHz to promote a faster roll-out of 5G services. A big delegation from India, comprising representatives from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), industry, consultants and academia, championed the approach to promote global harmonisation and flexibility to deploy 5G. A balanced and innovative solution was adopted, which will provide flexibility to both terrestrial 5G and satellite operations to co exist, by adjustments in power emission levels in the 24/26 GHz mmWave band. Needless to mention, securing 5G spectrum in the mmWave band is the topmost priority for India as it is looking for implementation of 5G by 2021.

The achievements or decisions of WRC-2019, as welcomed by both satellite and mobile communication industries globally, will benefit billions of people around the world and will be reflected in the continuous growth of the trillion-dollar telecommunication and ICT industry.

5G is expected to connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart, networked communication environments. It will transport a huge amount of data much faster, reliably connect an extremely large number of devices and process very high volumes of data with minimal delay. 5G technologies are expected to support applications such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, augmented reality/virtual reality, AI, IoT applications such as remote surgery and massive machine-to-machine (M2M) communications for industry automation.

For India, these decisions are also consistent with the ambitious goals stated in the National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 (NDCP,-2018) such as providing 1 Gbps connectivity to all gram panchayats in the country by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022 and universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen. The strategies to achieve these goals include:

  • Identifying and making available new spectrum bands for access and backhaul segments for the timely deployment and growth of 5G networks. Also, making available harmonised and contiguous spectrum required for the deployment of next-generation access technologies.
  • Promoting next-generation access technologies in the country through recognising mid-band spectrum, particularly 3 GHz to 43 GHz range.
  • Enabling high speed internet, IoT and M2M through the roll-out of 5G technologies by ensuring the availability of spectrum for 5G in the <1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and >6 GHz bands.

The major decisions taken at WRC-2019 are intended to provide an impetus to next generation communication capabilities, which  include identification of frequency bands for high altitude platform systems (HAPS); protection of earth exploration-satellite service for satellite tracking, telemetry and control using the 22.55-23.15 GHz frequency band; resolution on railway radio communication systems for the deployment of railway train and track-side systems; enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity; integration of ICT with evolving intelligent transport systems’ and regulatory procedures for non-geostationary satellite constellations in the fixed-satellite service.

All these services and applications require updates to the Radio Regulations in order to launch and bring their innovative products to citizens who still lack connectivity and are potential tools to support broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas, a priority for India. The ITU will make sure that the standards supporting all 5G applications will be in place by 2020. WRC-2019 has also laid down the agenda for WRC-2023, which includes conditions for ESIM (earth station in motion) communications, possible use of HAPS frequency bands for ground-based IMT base stations, modernising aeronautical HF radio, and improved communication, additional spectrum and satellite resources for the  Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

Considering the success of WRC-2019 and the largest ever participation from India in the ITU conference, undoubtedly, I feel India should continue to represent its interest on such global platforms for identification of spectrum and finalisation of standards for new technologies, applications and services.