Nº 5 2015 > Conference overview
Today’s successes leading tomorrow’s technology
François Rancy, Director, ITU Radiocommunication Bureau
The World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC‑15), mandated to review and revise the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources, will be held in Geneva, 2–27 November 2015, in an era of rapid changes in radiocommunications and the wider sphere of information and communication technologies (ICT).
WRC‑15 will review the international regulatory framework for radiocommunications — the Radio Regulations — and revise them as needed taking into account the rapid evolution of ICT, ensuring that reliable radio services are available everywhere, enabling people to live and travel safely and enjoy high performance radiocommunications.
The agenda of a world radiocommunication conference includes a number of topics of worldwide character. In 2012, more than 3000 delegates representing 165 countries participated in the deliberations, along with representatives from 100 Observers from among ITU’s 700 private Sector Members and international organizations. This year we expect as many, if not more, delegates to attend WRC‑15.
With the relentless expansion and importance of wireless services worldwide, all services relying on radio waves are competing for a share of the radio-frequency spectrum to support new applications, growing user numbers and exploding traffic. The importance and relevance of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) is therefore increasing constantly.
The Radio Regulations are a key component of international frequency management and constitute the binding international treaty that determines how the radio-frequency spectrum is shared between different services and how satellite orbits are to be used. Covering fixed and mobile radio services, satellite systems, radio and TV broadcasting, aeronautical, maritime, radionavigation, meteorological monitoring, space research and Earth exploration, as well as amateur radio, the Radio Regulations encompass over 2000 pages of texts and charts that prescribe how equipment and systems must operate to ensure peaceful cohabitation in today’s increasingly crowded airwaves.
World radiocommunication conferences are held every three to four years. Throughout the month of November, representatives of governments and regulators will come together, along with other stakeholders, to negotiate the relevant parts of the Radio Regulations and commit to the modifications to the international treaty. This process involves extensive studies and preparatory discussions among all stakeholders (equipment makers, network operators, industry forums and users of spectrum) at national, regional and global levels. Many of these stakeholders also serve as members of national delegations at the conference itself. This multi-stakeholder approach enables the necessary consensus to be built to ensure that WRCs maintain a stable, predictable and universally applied regulatory environment that secures long-term investments for a multi-trillion dollar industry.
Preparatory measures have been painstakingly undertaken for the WRC‑15 decision-making process to take place. Administrations and regional groups, supported by international organizations, the private sector and the Radiocommunication Bureau, have built the foundations for WRC‑15 to successfully address the needs and concerns of spectrum users worldwide.
The first session of the Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM15‑1) for WRC‑15, held immediately after WRC‑12, identified and assigned the studies to be carried out by the ITU–R study groups in preparation for WRC‑15. It agreed on a structure for the draft CPM Report to WRC‑15, and appointed rapporteurs for the six chapters of the Report to assist the chairman and vice-chairmen in managing the development of the draft CPM Report.
A variety of spectrum-related matters dealing with the future development of radiocommunications, enabling convergence and coordination of all radio services, were addressed at the Second Session of the Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM15‑2). It concluded on 2 April this year with the adoption of the CPM Report to WRC‑15, focusing on technical, operational and regulatory materials to be considered by ITU Member States in developing their proposals to the conference.
CPM15‑2 reached consensus on the possible ways to address many of the topics on the WRC‑15 Agenda. The implementation of wireless avionics intra-communications, the use of digital technologies for more efficient usage of existing frequencies for on-board communications and critical functions of ships in restricted waters, and the sustainable availability of the 5 GHz band for feeder-links to non-geostationary orbital (GSO) systems in the mobile-satellite service will be brought to the table.
CPM15‑2 also addressed many other complex and controversial issues related to terrestrial and space radiocommunication services — from narrowband systems for maritime and aeronautical mobile communications and navigation to broadband wireless access systems — as well as the future use of a wide range of frequency bands allocated by the Radio Regulations. CPM15‑2 agreed on the description of the various possible options to be considered by WRC‑15.
To assist national and regional preparations, the World Radiocommunication Seminars held in December 2012 and 2014 focused on the regulatory aspects of the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, in particular the application of the provisions of the ITU Radio Regulations. Regional Radiocommunication Seminars were also held in each of the ITU regions, which helped focus attention on issues of regional concern and were a major step in the preparations for WRC‑15. While the seminars covered procedures associated with the recording of frequency assignments for satellites in the Master International Frequency Register (MIFR) as well as best practices regarding the use of spectrum for both terrestrial and space services, workshops held in conjunction helped participants to get hands-on experience with ITU notification procedures as well as with the software and electronic publications made available by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau to Member States and to ITU–R Sector Members.
Three inter-regional workshops on WRC‑15 preparation were also held on a yearly basis to provide participants with explanations of the ITU–R preparatory studies and give them the opportunity to exchange views and have a better understanding of the common positions and/or proposals of the concerned entities.
WRC‑15 is now set to review and update the global technical, operational and regulatory provisions that govern the use of the radio frequency spectrum for terrestrial and satellite applications. In conducting its activities, the conference will attempt to cast a proper balance between the need for worldwide harmonization (to benefit from economies of scale, connectivity and interoperability), and the need for flexibility in spectrum allocations, while accommodating new and innovative systems, applications and technologies as they arise with the need to protect existing radiocommunication services.
The scope and complexity of the agenda items to be discussed at WRC‑15 encompass a wide gamut of issues. In summarizing the main topics to be dealt with by the conference, the specific concerns and interests of some groups or entities will inevitably be subject to compromise. But having said that, WRC‑15 will address a number of key issues, in particular:
- Mobile broadband communications: Provision of additional frequencies to meet the rapidly growing demand for mobile broadband communications (International Mobile Telecommunications, or IMT).
- Emergency communications and disaster relief: Allocation of frequencies and guidelines for advanced public protection and disaster relief communication systems.
- Monitoring the environment and climate change: New allocations for Earth-exploration satellite services with higher resolution radar imagery for improved global environmental monitoring.
- Unmanned aircraft and wireless avionics systems: Spectrum for the aeronautical sector, related to the use of unmanned aircraft systems, and wireless avionics intra-communications to allow for the heavy and expensive wiring used in aircraft to be replaced by wireless systems.
- Global flight tracking for civil aviation: The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 instructed WRC‑15 to consider allocating spectrum for global flight tracking for improved safety and environmental benefits.
- Enhanced maritime communication systems: Maritime communications, facilitating the use of on-board digital transmissions and automatic identification system on vessels, aimed at improving navigation safety at sea.
- Road safety: Allocation of frequencies for short range, high-resolution radars for collision avoidance systems in vehicles for increased road safety.
- Operation of satellite systems: Allocation of spectrum for broadband satellite systems; and improving coordination procedures to make more efficient use of spectrum and satellite orbits, including for earth stations.
- Space research: Use of spectrum for operations when space vehicles are communicating with orbiting manned space vehicles.
- Universal time: Examining the feasibility of achieving a continuous reference time-scale, by the modification of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) or another method.