*This article was originally published in the recent ITU News Magazine edition “Managing spectrum for evolving technologies.” Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.
From cleaner oceans and more efficient transport systems to safer factories, smarter cities and more preventative health care, billions of citizens are counting on 5G innovation to improve their lives. The outcome of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) will determine if these innovations can happen.
5G is the next step in our journey to connect all societies to a better future. Building upon and working with 4G, 5G will deliver more than just faster downloads with lower lag — it will be an evolutionary step with a revolutionary impact. It promises to have a deeper impact on our lives than any previous mobile generation. Without the necessary support at WRC‑19, that impact could be delayed or even lost.
More than two-thirds of the people on the planet — over 5 billion — now have a mobile subscription, connecting people to each other and to the digital economy. The Internet is the most important enabler of social development and economic growth of our time. Already 3.6 billion people are online through mobile, and this figure is set to grow by an additional 1.4 billion by 2025.
The future of connectivity is on the table at WRC‑19, and the work we do in Sharm El-Sheikh will have a huge impact on how we connect everyone and everything to 5G, realizing a better future for all.
ITU plays a critical role in connecting the world’s citizens to the enabling power of mobile services through the identification of harmonized spectrum, fostering scale and affordability. Progress from 2G to 3G to 4G has seen each generation offer new capabilities and bring new benefits to more people. 4G networks already cover 81% of the global population.
Starting with the 900 MHz band in 1979 (the World Administrative Radio Conference (Geneva, 1979), the ITU’s Radio Regulations laid the foundation for today’s mobile broadband networks. These allocations and identifications have paved the way for mobile broadband to thrive.
In Sharm El-Sheikh this year, the 3000 delegates representing nearly all of the world’s nations have the unique opportunity to deliver new levels of connectivity across the globe. With access to the right spectrum, 5G networks are expected to cover nearly 40% of the global population by 2025.
Tremendous study and discussion have already been put into WRC‑19 agenda item 1.13. The specially created Task Group 5/1 met extensively between May 2016 and August 2018, taking an exhaustive look at mmWave frequencies (bands including 26 GHz, 40 GHz, 50 GHz and 66 GHz).
The sharing and compatibility studies showed that, while some services need protection measures, scenarios with many services show positive margins that don’t require additional measures.
The development of the Radio Regulations at WRC follows a simple rule: where existing services need protecting, measures will be put in place; where sharing is feasible, no action is required at WRC.
Working together, we can help 5G reach its potential at WRC‑19.
The Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM) Report for agenda item 1.13 is huge, and full of potential conditions. In many cases these conditions are simply not necessary, and in places, they jeopardize future connectivity. At risk is the development of 5G networks, which, under some of these conditions, could be severely compromised for the next decade. In the case of unwanted emission limits on the 26 GHz band, some of the more conservative conditions will block its use for 5G entirely, which is a strange contradiction to the global support for the band for 5G.
Writing unnecessary or needlessly onerous conditions will create delays and negatively impact the socio-economic benefits that flow from International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT). Conversely, the certainty that comes with fair fact-based decisions will set off a positive chain reaction, including the development of the next wave of innovative services and devices and the support of large-scale investments.
IMT will continue to be a good neighbour to other important radiocommunication services. As we approach WRC‑19, it is clear that misinformation about the technical impact of 5G systems on other services is putting the potential of 5G at risk. Work done in preparation for the conference has demonstrated that 5G can be used safely alongside other services, including weather sensing services, commercial satellite services, radar and others.
The performance benefits of mmWave 5G, including ultra-high speeds and low lag, will drive revolutionary new applications across many sectors around the globe. This holds the potential to create an intelligently connected world and enable a new, unprecedented era of industrial connectivity. It can facilitate enhanced services and help nations address our most pressing global concerns: climate change, enhanced economic growth, and fairer societies.
Whether it is a school that wants to educate more students; a city that wants to improve air quality or a company that wants to improve worker safety, 5G can build on the success of mobile networks in ways that matter to everyone. 5G stands to provide amazing improvement to health care, especially in poorer, rural areas.
5G will enable doctors to diagnose and treat patients that may be thousands of miles away. Highspeed, low-latency 5G connectivity will make remote surgery feasible, bringing the skills of talented doctors to remote locations. Additionally, 5G will pave the way for more patient monitoring technologies to aid chronically ill patients, and help shift focus to prevention and wellness, rather than treatment.
In smart cities, intelligent transport systems (ITS) can help reduce congestion and pollution. Connected sensors in infrastructure and vehicles can send high-quality, detailed information on traffic flow, accidents, and congestion to traffic management centres. 5G also provides a cost-effective way of wirelessly connecting millions of people in growing cities.
The benefits extend beyond technology industries and high-GDP nations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there is strong leadership around smart transportation hubs. Here, mmWave 5G connections will enable the coordinated movement of goods and the remote control of essential machinery, leading to more efficient port operations, lower costs, and increased trade.
WRC‑19 is key to enabling these advances through the global harmonization of mmWave spectrum.
Based on the unprecedented number of people connected in its relatively short history, the mobile industry has shown its commitment to being an efficient and effective custodian of spectrum resources. The use of mmWaves will be no different. Over a 15‑year period, from 2020 to 2034, access to this resource is expected to power a USD 565 billion boost in global GDP, with USD 152 billion in tax revenue coming from mmWave 5G services.
5G’s success is not measured only in the prosperity it will bring to society, but also its ability to connect the underserved to health care, education and employment opportunities and to protect the environment we live in. In fact, the mobile industry was the first industry sector to commit to do its part to meet the targets of the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, and it annually measures its contribution to those shared goals. Twenty seven mobile operators with 2/3 of the world’s connections have also committed to support an industry-wide approach to net-zero emissions, in line with the UN Paris Agreement to combat climate change.
The WRC process has always depended on collaboration between countries and industries within the ITU family. This time, together, we have the opportunity to set the stage for the next wave of digital services, bringing revolutionary new services to citizens, industries and governments. The future of connectivity is on the table at WRC‑19, and the work we do in Sharm El-Sheikh will have a huge impact on how we connect everyone and everything to 5G, realizing a better future for all.
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