Important satellite network services to be discussed at WRC 23

Several agenda items for WRC‑23 include fixed, mobile, broadcasting, and radio determination satellite services.  Study Group 4 ITU–R is responsible for preparing these agenda items, aiming to ensure efficient use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbit systems and networks.
Non‑geostationary satellite orbit (non‑GSO) systems are one of the top priorities on the WRC‑23 agenda.

First, coexistence must be ensured between non‑GSO and geostationary satellite orbit (GSO) systems, with protection being ensured for both kinds of satellites. This requires accurate calculations of potential interference to and from non‑GSOs, allowing possible modifications to non‑GSO systems to be considered where needed.Improved rules for non‑GSOs should also cover those on orbital tolerances. These will be treated under the conference’s agenda items for satellite services (7A), milestone reporting (7B), and aggregate interference to GSOs (7J), along with a functional description for software tools to determine non‑GSO fixed-satellite service (FSS) system or network conformity (ITU–R Recommendation S.1503).

Satellite operators expect decisions at WRC‑23 to provide maximum flexibility in the use of spectrum allocations for certain purposes.

These include: earth stations in motion (ESIM) in the FSS, under agenda items 1.15 and 1.16; inter-satellite communications in the FSS, item 1.17; and FSS in the existing broadcasting-satellite service (BSS), item 1.19.

WRC‑23 discussions on these topics will aim to allow for more efficient spectrum use than is currently the case.

Amid rapid satellite development in recent years, non‑GSO systems have been deployed on a large scale. At the same time, new high-capacity satellites have gone into geostationary orbit.

On the regulatory side, the addition of a satellite component to the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT‑2020) ecosystem has enabled satellite usage in cellular networks, along with new satellite services and other innovations.

Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are increasingly raising the issue of sustainability, equitable access, and the rational use of GSO and non‑GSO spectrum resources. Resolution 219 of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (Bucharest, 2022) reflects these concerns.

WRC‑23 needs to continue giving high priority to establishing equitable access to satellite orbits. This means recognizing the special needs of developing countries, often including geographical challenges.

The development of innovative satellite technologies has now moved significantly ahead of regulations in the use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. As this gap continues widening, ITU must find new approaches to keep international satellite regulation timely and relevant for the industry.

Technology is advancing so rapidly that some operators have begun to introduce new satellite technologies using GSO and non‑GSO satellites without waiting for conference decisions to regulate such use. Moreover, national administrations sometimes grant authorization for such uses in the absence of internationally agreed rules.

Concerns are growing about derogations from the ITU Radio Regulations, particularly under 4.4 of Article 4 — which allows national administrations to assign frequencies exceptionally, outside the Table of Frequency Allocations and other treaty requirements, as long as such assignments do not cause harmful interference to any existing radio services.

The conference will consider how to deal with the widespread use of 4.4, for non‑coordinated satellite networks. It should also clarify whether the derogation option under 4.4 should be available for all radio systems, or only non‑commercial systems.

Overall, WRC‑23 must clarify how administrations use the provision, when they have the right to invoke it, and which specific circumstances justify exceptional use of 4.4 on a temporary basis.

The Radio Regulations, containing the rules and regulations for the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, are updated approximately every four years, in line with ITU’s associated conference cycle.

Perhaps the time has come to think about reducing the number of years between World Radiocommunication Conferences and simplifying the preparatory cycle and associated documentation. One way forward could be to reassess the current Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM) format and to consider merging the two CPM sessions into one.

Given the rapid growth, transformation and innovation phase the satellite industry is now going through, WRC‑23 should instruct the ITU Radiocommunication Sector to conduct urgent studies on the potential for reusing frequency bands allocated to mobile services for non‑GSO satellite systems.

National administrations, as well as companies and organizations taking part as ITU Sector Members, need to jointly address these new issues, strengthen the ITU–R framework, and pursue global solutions for the benefit of all.

Key issues for discussion at WRC‑23 featured image


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