GSMA’s Mobile 360 Asia-Pacific 2022 conference took place from 2-3 August in Singapore. The event gathered key stakeholders to discuss topics relating to the build of future digital nations and spectrum requirements for 5G ecosystem expansion innovation in the region. There were more than 1,300 registrations from 55 countries, and 173 speakers – including policymakers, leading operators, vendors and company representatives – discussed new use cases for 5G.

One of the topics discussed over the two-day event was 6GHz. GSMA shared the findings from its latest research report, The 6GHz IMT Ecosystem, with an evaluation of the future prospects and market readiness of the 6 GHz IMT ecosystem.

The research found that the outlook for the 6 GHz IMT ecosystem is robust, with the market aligned on the following principles: 1) there are no technical barriers to developing and commercialising 6GHz IMT solutions; 2) key players are ready to develop 6GHz IMT products for devices and network infrastructure; 3) the main trigger exists from operator demand and is driven by the WRC-23 decision; 4) the 3.5GHz grid could be reused by the 6GHz band.

It is expected that by 2024, the first wave of 6GHz equipment will be available to the market for product development. It is possible that, starting in 2025, 6GHz IMT devices and infrastructure will be available at scale in the market.

The report featured the results of a survey conducted to analyse perspectives from the industry’s top mobile operators on the importance of 6GHz to the future of IMT development. The results showed that 93% of those surveyed identified 6GHz as extremely or very important, and 80% of surveyed operators considered it extremely likely or very likely that they would deploy 6GHz for IMT services to support the development of eMBB services (35%), fixed wireless access (21%) and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (18%) for 6GHz IMT.

At the event, representatives of regulators, operators and equipment vendors shared their thoughts on the 6GHz band.

Encik Shamsul Izhan Abdul Majid, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, said the current target was to accelerate 5G adoption in Malaysia. With regard to spectrum, mid-bands are crucial, offering a “sweet spot” between speed, coverage and link latency. The strategy for 6GHz for IMT study is being debated internally now.

Hai Thoo Cheong, Vice President of Mobile Engineering at Singtel, said the telecoms operator was determined to make 5G available as soon as possible. He said that 2,000MHz of mid-band spectrum was needed for 2025-2030, considering upcoming demand from both consumers and enterprises. He said 6GHz was the band to narrow the gap, driven by social and economic benefit analysis, decreased WiFi offload and new use cases.

Chee Kheong Foong, Group Head of Regulatory Affairs at Axiata Group, said that in the markets in which the company was active, mobile came first, and that spectrum demand would be doubled to support future usage. He said 6GHz was a perfect opportunity to address future challenges. With regard to the 6GHz IMT, he said the right time to take action is now, as the ecosystem is moving forward, especially since 3GPP R17 has completed standardisation for the upper 6GHz band, and the IMT industry should not miss the opportunity offered by WRC-23. He said 6GHz IMT identification should be encouraged to achieve harmonised spectrum planning in the region.

Chen Chuanfei, Chief Wireless Strategy Officer at Huawei, said 6 GHz provided 700MHz to 1,200MHz to bridge the gap between limited mid-band provision and the demands of 2,000MHz/country by 2030. He said 6GHz was the ideal band, enabling 5-10 times more capacity while achieving the same coverage with 3.5GHz, based on technology evolution including large-scale array architecture, 3T8R/4T8R high-power UE and physical channel coverage improvement. He said 6GHz for 5G advances and 6G would become the common choice in the next decade, and urged cooperation to make it happen.

Taking advantage of the 6 GHz IMT opportunity will require support from policymakers. It is recommended that: 1) mid-band requirements be fulfilled by 2030; 2) the economic benefits of 6 GHz uses be studied; 3) the opportunity to identify new IMT mid-band spectrum in 6GHz at WRC-23 be seized; and 4) clear roadmaps for affordable mid-band spectrum be provided.