By Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau
The ITU’s upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) will play a key role in shaping the technical and regulatory framework for the provision of radiocommunication services in all countries, in space, air, at sea and on land. It will help accelerate progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It will provide a solid foundation to support a variety of emerging technologies that are set to revolutionize the digital economy, including the use of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud services.
“The World Radiocommunication Conference, which opened today (October 28th), will address some of the leading-edge technological innovations set to play a pivotal role in tomorrow’s digital economy and the future development of services, systems and technologies,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, noting that digital inclusion provides the chance to improve the lives of millions across the world. “A transformative revolution in connectivity is in the making with immense implications for the trillion-dollar telecommunication and ICT industry and in advancing many of the United Nations SDGs.”
Every three to four years the conference revises the Radio Regulations (RR), the only international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. The treaty’s provisions regulate the use of telecommunication services and, where necessary, also regulate new applications of radiocommunication technologies.
The aim of the regulation is to facilitate equitable access and rational use of the limited natural resources of the radio-frequency spectrum and the satellite orbits, and to enable the efficient and effective operation of all radio communication services.
WRC‑19 will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 28 October to 22 November 2019 and its agenda covers a wide range of radio- communication services (see examples at the end of this article).
The preparations for the conference include studies and discussions that take place in the ITU–R Study Groups, the Conference Preparatory Meeting, the ITU inter-regional workshops, and also within the regional groups. The very nature of the process and study cycle helps build consensus and facilitates the work of the conference, where final decisions are made. See the infographic for more information on the preparatory process.
Each World Radiocommunication Conference affects the future development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in many ways, including:
- Introducing and expanding access to the radio spectrum for new radiocommunication systems and applications;
- Protecting the operation of existing radiocommunication services and providing the stable and predictable regulatory
environment needed for future investments;
- Avoiding the potential for harmful interference between radio services;
- Allowing the provision of high-quality radiocommunications while protecting vital uses of the radio spectrum, particularly for distress and safety communications; and
- Facilitating international roaming and increasing economies of scale, thereby making it possible for network and user
devices to be more affordable.
2nd ITU Inter-regional Workshop on WRC-19 Preparation
Currently, billions of people, businesses, and devices are connected to the Internet. ICTs are transforming each and every aspect of our lives, from the way people interact and communicate to the way companies do business.
People expect instantaneous high-quality connectivity, whether stationary or on-the-move, in their homes or outside in a crowd.
Companies search for new ways to increase their business and operational efficiency, whether by monitoring the condition of equipment and conducting predictive maintenance, or by monitoring customer data to offer personalized solutions. The increasing need for a new underlying ecosystem will be made possible by utilizing a variety of complementary terrestrial and satellite technologies/services.
The fifth generation of mobile technology, International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) 2020 (5G) promises to enhance the connectivity infrastructure that delivers high-speed networks to end users, carries the flow of information from billions of users and IoT devices, and enables a whole array of services to different industry verticals. Spectrum for 5G services will be one of the main topics of WRC‑19. More specifically, new allocations will be considered for the mobile service and identification for IMT of frequencies in the mm Wave bands (above 24 GHz).
In addition, satellite services aim at increasing connectivity, whether by providing access to broadband communications to unserved rural communities, or to passengers on aircrafts, on ships and on land, or by expanding backhaul of terrestrial networks.
WRC‑19 will address fixed and mobile satellite services, earth stations in motion, and will revise the assignment procedures pertaining to satellite networks.
Leveraging the economic opportunities brought by technology should be possible not only for some, but for all. One target of SDG No. 9 is to increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least-developed countries by 2020.
Fortunately, new technological innovations support this goal. They aim at expanding broadband connectivity and telecommunication services to least-developed countries, underserved communities, rural and remote areas, including mountainous, coastal and desert areas.
Towards this end, WRC‑19 will consider spectrum for High-Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) and will revise the regulatory framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Systems (non-GSO). HAPS, operating in the stratosphere, can be used to provide fixed broadband connectivity for end users, and backhaul for mobile networks, thus increasing the coverage of these networks.
Constellations of non-GSO satellites aim at improving quality, increasing the capacity and reducing the costs of satellite services, which should enable satellite operators to bring market solutions that increase access to connectivity.
These are times of transformation, but also of uncertainty. The number of natural disasters have increased considerably in the last decades: hurricanes, earthquakes, storms, floods, and fires. Climate change is a reality: we are experiencing heatwaves, and observing long-lasting glaciers melt.
Taking this into account, SDG No. 13 on climate action targets to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. To reach this target, several radiocommunication services offer the solution required to monitor, mitigate and adapt to these events.
Satellite communications, and in particular space sensing and Earth observation systems are used to monitor the state of the oceans and the conservation of forests. They can detect natural disturbances in the state of the atmosphere and provide accurate climate predictions.
Radiocommunication services are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.
Other radiocommunication systems are also used to collect and transmit data related to weather conditions (humidity, rainfall rates etc.), for example IoT systems and radars. These sources of information form the critical mass needed to detect climate-related hazards.
Broadcasting and broadband services provide early warning to the population which reduces the impact of natural and environmental disasters by strengthening the resilience and increasing adaptive capacity.
Amateur radiocommunication services, among others, assist relief operations especially when other services are still not operational. More recently, HAPS have also been deployed to rapidly deliver services with minimal ground network infrastructure in disaster-relief missions.
WRC‑19’s decisions will affect services of utmost importance in these times of transformation and uncertainty. They will allow us to harness the power of ICTs to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities of today’s digital economy.
Radiocommunication services are deeply transforming the health, education, and transportation sectors. They are improving financial inclusion, increasing transparency and supporting accountable institutions, promoting sustainable agriculture, helping to preserve life in the air, at sea and on land. They are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.
The four year preparation cycle leading to the WRC, the high-level of commitment of participants from governments and industry, done through arduous work and extensive international negotiations, both in the preparatory pro‑ cess and during the WRC‑19, will culminate in the signing of the WRC‑19 Final Acts and revising the Radio Regulations — the invaluable international treaty that is the foundation for rational, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum, enabling radiocommunication technology developments since the start of radiocommunications, 113 years ago.
WRCs review the way radio spectrum is organized around the world, bringing together governments to negotiate and agree on the relevant modifications to the RR and commit to them. The preparatory process of WRCs involves extensive studies and preparatory discussions among all stakeholders (equipment makers, network operators, industry forums and users of spectrum) at national, regional and worldwide 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 which secures long-term investments for a multi-trillion dollar industry.
The four-week program of a WRC includes the review and update of 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 attempts 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,
- between the need to accommodate new and innovative systems, applications and technologies as they arise and the need to protect existing radiocommunication services, including from non-radio equipment and appliances.