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The Future of Mobile

Roberto Ercole, Senior Director of Spectrum, GSMA

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 (WRC-12) is able to start a three-year period of debate, research and decision-making that will shape the face of mobile broadband for decades to come. Agenda item 8.2 gives administrations the opportunity to support placing an item on the agenda of WRC-15 to plan the spectrum needs of the IMT sector through 2020 and beyond. At a time when broadband is regarded as crucial for socio-economic development GSMA is supporting the adoption of a new agenda item for international mobile telecommunications (IMT), with the correct mandate and supported by the right ITU working group.

IMT World

The importance of IMT and mobile broadband for continued economic growth and development, particularly in developing countries, is well known. Virtually all mobile broadband is IMT, and IMT will be the main way of accessing the Internet in many markets – particularly developing ones.

Globally, according to Wireless Intelligence Q4 2011, there are currently some 1.6 billion IMT connections. IMT includes all significant mobile broadband technologies, so the success of IMT is, in effect, the same as the success of mobile broadband. It is thus important that ITU-R and world radiocommunication conferences take the necessary steps to encourage IMT to develop. But for IMT and mobile broadband to reach their full potential, suitable and sufficient harmonized spectrum will have to be identified to cater for the projected growth.

While WRC-07 did identify more spectrum for IMT, the extra spectrum did not match the demand predicted in ITU studies. The spectrum that was identified, such as the UHF band at 700 or 800 MHz, is being awarded around the world, and many more assignments are expected in 2012. Almost all terrestrial spectrum identified at previous conferences is either heavily used (3G core bands) or is currently being awarded (2.6 GHz extension bands) in most markets. This has allowed economies of scale to develop for IMT technologies, which has spurred incredible global growth of mobile broadband. There are nearly 670 million high-speed packet access (HSPA) subscribers today.

Spectrum 2020 and beyond

For the success of mobile broadband to continue offering the maximum benefit to consumers and economic development, GSMA believes that an important requirement is to ensure that sufficient and suitably harmonized spectrum is made available. Studies show that the transmission of data over mobile networks has grown rapidly during the past few years, with seven times greater traffic in 2010 than was predicted by ITU back in 2005.

WRC-12 offers the opportunity to ensure that the spectrum needs of mobile broadband can be considered at WRC-15. This requires that WRC-12, when approving the agenda for WRC-15 under agenda item 8.2, includes an agenda item for IMT. The backing of administrations will be needed to ensure that such an agenda item is agreed.

It is important that the IMT agenda item allows for the allocation of spectrum to the mobile service. Within the Radio Regulations the term “mobile broadband” has no clear definition as a service, unlike “fixed” or “mobile” for example. In fact, “mobile broadband” is an application that can run over spectrum designated for mobile services.

The allocation of a band for the mobile service is, however, not sufficient. There are many bands in the Radio Regulations that have primary mobile allocations but are not available for mobile broadband applications, because there is no suitable equipment ecosystem. Such ecosystems create economies of scale and lead to lower-cost devices. In order to create these ecosystems, an identification of spectrum for IMT is required. Such an identification gives confidence to the industry to develop standards and equipment. This in turn gives confidence to administrations to make the bands available using harmonized band plans, and in turn creates momentum that leads to more users and hence lower device costs – creating a virtuous circle.

The need for an IMT agenda item at WRC-15 has been widely supported in the regional groups, with positive proposals coming in different forms from all regions. At stake at WRC-12, and subsequently at the first Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-15, is to ensure that the details in the outcome documents support the roll-out of IMT, and that the work on identifying both the spectrum needs and the most suitable bands is done by the appropriate ITU working party, namely ITU-R Working Party 5D.

IMT task of World Radiocommunication Conferences

GSMA is acutely aware that an allocation to the mobile service and identification for IMT at WRC-15 would imply that such spectrum might not become available until 2025 (or later in some markets). There are very long lead times between allocation and identification at a conference and the final use of the spectrum by consumers. Given the importance of mobile broadband applications to all consumers, actions must be taken now to approve an agenda item at WRC-12 for IMT, and ensure that work between WRC-12 and WRC-15 is carried out as efficiently, affordably and inclusively as possible.

GSMA believes that ITU and world radiocommunication conferences play a vital role in helping to ensure that spectrum is harmonized to the extent required to control radio interference, and allow for economies of scale to be realized by the industry. Such economies of scale have allowed GSM to go from a niche product to more than 6 billion mobile connections globally in around 20 years.

The need for widespread international harmonization has meant that the process of acquiring harmonized spectrum requires long-term planning. For example, the core spectrum for 3G/IMT (UMTS in Europe) was identified by the ITU World Administrative Radio Conference in 1992, and finally awarded around 2000; and fully available around 2004. This makes it important to ensure that the planning process for identifying spectrum takes place in good time, to allow for the long time horizons. The benefits of international harmonization are great for mass market services such as mobile.

Identification of bands by a conference does not guarantee that allocations will be the same between different ITU regions, or that there will not be different regulatory restrictions and timings. Indeed, if there is no market demand for IMT/mobile broadband applications, then the spectrum will not be awarded for IMT use. The fact that identification for something exists does not guarantee success. Neither does identification for IMT force administrations to make the spectrum available to IMT. But low-cost devices and global availability do make the likelihood of success much higher, and the economic benefit that flows from this encourages administrations to make the bands available.

Identifications by a world radiocommunication conference go a long way to giving industry confidence to develop products, and help create the markets that will persuade administrations to implement what has been recommended. So while GSMA welcomes the outcome of WRC-07, it also proposes to continue the work in order to further maximize the scope and degree of harmonization of the frequency bands identified for IMT. The earliest this work can be done is at WRC-15.

Getting the work done in ITU-R Working Party 5D

There has already been significant support from the regional groups for a new agenda item to look into the future needs of IMT. Should this support result in the approval of such an agenda item, WRC-12 and the subsequent Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-15 will need to agree on some vital details. The wording of the associated resolution will be of paramount importance, the choice of working party even more so. There are a number of reasons for making sure that ITU-R Working Party 5D is charged with undertaking the necessary work, preparing reports and ultimately drafting the Conference Preparatory Meeting text that will go to WRC-15.

In its previous incarnation – as ITU-R Working Party 8F – ITU-R Working Party 5D has shown itself to be able to work on the development of IMT. The group has overseen the identification of harmonized IMT spectrum before, and is the one-stop group for the IMT representatives in each administration.

Resolution ITU-R 2 states that existing groups should be used for preparatory work and, where possible, a single group should be identified. The reasons for this are clear. Creating new groups takes time – which between WRC-12 and WRC-15 will be extremely short – and it takes additional effort from administrations in terms of finance and personnel.

The latter point is particularly important when it comes to the developing world. Creating a new group to discuss the future needs of IMT would oblige administrations to attend both ITU-R Working Party 5D and the new group. This would put pressure on all administrations in terms of additional budget, and this is likely to be most keenly felt in developing economies.

In order to achieve the best possible consensus on the future of IMT, it is vital that the broadest pool of administrations are able to attend. Creating a second IMT group outside of ITU-R Working Party 5D would limit the ability of the developing world to engage in the future of mobile broadband. Without the broadest possible consensus, the wide harmonization of future IMT spectrum would be jeopardized.

GSMA believes that the clearest path to ensuring that mobile broadband is harmonized as widely as possible, and is thus as affordable as possible, is to bring the debate under the roof of the IMT working group.

All parties, sectors and services are, of course, entirely welcome to attend. GSMA looks forward to joining in the discussion.



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Updated: 2018-09-23