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WRC-23 – Another step toward India’s digital ambitions

Prime Minister Modi launched 5G services on October 1, 2022, taking India’s digital transformation and connectivity to new heights. This milestone unlocks huge possibilities and will equip India with latest mobile network technology, and bring transformation in areas, such as agriculture, health, education, transport, logistics, smart cities, Industry 4.0, and financial inclusion.

The launch of 5G will strengthen India’s position as an economic and tech powerhouse globally and will provide new opportunities for start-ups, new jobs, and contribute to India’s economic growth story. However, India is only just at the beginning of its 5G journey and there is a lot more work required in the years ahead. These views are also echoed by the Hon’ble Finance Minister of India while presenting the Economic Survey for 2022-23 in Parliament on 31 January 2023:

“12.8 …….The rollout of 5G services can unleash new economic opportunities and help the country leapfrog the traditional barriers to development, spur innovations by start-ups and business enterprises, and advance the Digital India vision. The journey is far from complete, and a lot remains to be accomplished to realize our true potential.”

Over the past two years, the Indian government and the telecom regulator together have undertaken numerous bold steps toward achieving the Digital India ambition in areas, such as digital physical infrastructure, security, affordability, and making available spectrum required for rollout of 5G.

The World Radiocommunications Conference 2023 (WRC-23), which will take place in Dubai at the end of 2023, provides an opportunity for India to build on the momentum by taking positive steps toward identifying spectrum that will help expand the availability of affordable 5G services, and ensure future growth and innovation.

At WRC-23, decisions will be taken on the future spectrum for 5G in low- and mid-bands, which are critical to the future of both mobile connectivity and the wider digital ecosystem. On average, GSMA estimates that a total of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum will be required per market to support the growth of 5G by 2030 while more low-band spectrum can help deliver 5G capabilities to rural and remote areas as well.

WRC-23 is an opportunity to build a spectrum roadmap for 2030, address the digital divide, and ensure 5G can benefit billions. For a country like India with a population of approximately 1.4 bn, with 1.1 bn mobile connections and an ambition to make 5G services available across the country by the year 2023-24, securing adequate supply of future spectrum for 5G and beyond is vital. At the same time, India’s support for new mobile bands, such as 6GHz will help further generate economies of scale and expand the ecosystem in them to the benefit of Indian citizens and beyond.

Harmonizing mobile spectrum delivers scale. With the right spectrum, 5G rollout will continue to empower citizens, businesses, and civil society across the world. Globally, 80 percent of 5G networks launched to date are from assignment of mid-band spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. By 2030, the GSMA estimates that around half the world’s mobile connections will be on 5G, impacting the businesses, economies, and livelihoods of citizens. This will place a great demand for more mid-band spectrum.

To meet this increasing demand, further harmonization of the 3.5GHz band is needed, but getting to the required 2GHz of mid-band spectrum will be challenging without assignment of the 6GHz frequency band for 5G. One of the measures of WRC-23’s success will be in its ability to secure the identification of 6GHz band spectrum. If this is achieved at WRC-23, it will be an enabler to deliver fast, affordable, mobile broadband to all parts of the world, lower the usage gap, and narrow the digital divide.

India is well-placed to take advantage of the expanding deployment of 5G and the services and opportunities that will arise from pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity. The coming years will decide the extent to which 5G can deliver on its promise. A clear, forward-looking spectrum roadmap, providing sufficient spectrum resources with the right terms and conditions, is required to provide fast and affordable services. The government, the regulator, and the industry need to work together on this – not only in India’s national processes but also at the regional and international platforms, such as the APG and WRC-23, to ensure that 5G can power a new phase of economic growth.

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