U.S. Wi-Fi industry declares victory at WRC-23

Several entities are celebrating the decisions made during the 2023 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), which concluded December 15 in Dubai.

The GSMA lauded the “groundbreaking spectrum decisions” that will shape the future of mobile communications. Notably, WRC-23 participants agreed on new mobile low-band spectrum below 1 GHz and mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz ranges.

But the GSMA statements on 6 GHz are somewhat contradictory to what many in the Wi-Fi community are considering a big victory. Notably, Wi-Fi proponents are saying China lost in its bid to get the 6 GHz band designated solely to serve technologies delivered by Huawei and other Chinese vendors.

Praise for U.S. delegates

The U.S. delegation deserves accolades for supporting American technologies like Wi-Fi and protecting American interests at WRC-23, according to WifiForward, whose backers include Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, Charter Communications, Boingo Wireless and Public Knowledge.  

“The U.S. delegation, working with like-minded delegations worldwide, denied China the global market it was seeking and scored a significant win for U.S. policy. Looking ahead, WifiForward urges NTIA and the FCC to continue supporting Wi-Fi and unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band and beyond,” WifiForward said in a statement.

Mary Brown, a spokesperson for WifiForward, said the unlicensed industry is “over the moon” with what the U.S. delegation was able to deliver. On top of that, the conference did not order any further study of 6 GHz for International Mobile Technologies, or IMT, which is how the ITU identifies mobile services.  

The Wi-Fi Alliance also was in a celebratory mood citing the WRC-23 decisions on the 6.425-7.125 GHz frequency band.

“Wi-Fi Alliance is thrilled that the conference recognized the pivotal role of 6 GHz Wi-Fi in shaping the future of global connectivity,” the Wi-Fi Alliance said in its statement. “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. Importantly, the WRC-23 rejected proposals to expand the upper 6 GHz IMT identification to several other countries or to consider such IMT identifications at the next WRC in 2027.”

Brown referred to something she dubbed the Radio Local Area Network (RLAN) savings clause, where the WRC-23 says regulators can consider and adopt unlicensed technology in the 6 GHz band even though it was designated for IMT. Almost all countries will see no change in their ability to use the band for unlicensed uses, she said.

The conference convenes every four years and this year hosted nearly 4,000 delegates. The U.S. delegation included close to 200 participants with representatives from the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, the FCC, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and more, in addition to private companies in the U.S. telecom and technology sectors, according to a U.S. Department of State press release.

Why did it take so long to reach a conclusion about the 6 GHz band? Apparently, the easy decisions get resolved quickly and the hard ones go down to the wire, with meetings long into the night and early mornings.

In a recent interview, Wi-Fi Alliance VP of Regulatory Affairs Alex Roytblat discussed his role as one of the U.S. delegates at the conference, which started November 20. He was there to press upon the importance of the 6 GHz band for unlicensed spectrum and its role in further broadband connectivity. At the time, he couldn’t say how the issue was going to be resolved but said everyone was making a good faith effort to reach a consensus.  

Interestingly, the people at the weeks-long event were using Wi-Fi to access information pertinent to the conference. “To deprive this capability or not allow it in some countries would be problematic of course for our industry but also for consumers,” he said, noting the use of Wi-Fi 6E and forthcoming Wi-Fi 7.