Via Satellite

Spectrum Issues Will Dominate WRC-19

There are three important agenda items at the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) in October, panelists told the annual SATELLITE show Wednesday: Spectrum, spectrum, and spectrum.

The infamous agenda item 1.13, which calls for allocating additional spectrum blocks — some of which are currently used by the satellite industry — to terrestrial mobile or cellular services, is likely to be highly contentious at the four-week long international conference staged by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“We do have concerns about putting unnecessary restrictions or undue restrictions on satellite,” said Jennifer Manner, Senior Vice President (SVP) of regulatory affairs for EchoStar.

The new spectrum allocations to terrestrial mobile are vital, backers say, to enable the development of novel 5G services like ultra-fast mobile broadband and low latency, high availability services for Internet of Things (IoT) applications like autonomous vehicles.

Spectrum allocation changes are always disruptive, but they can be especially difficult for the satellite industry given the long lead times that operators need. Echostar is already building its next generation Jupiter-3 satellite, due to be launched in 2021, and “it’s very hard to change things, as folks here know, once you’re into construction,” Manner explained, which makes a sufficient grandfathering period essential.

The WRC, held every three to four years, has often been contentious, panelists said, given the high stakes involved. The conference agrees changes to the ITU’s Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the global use of the radio-frequency spectrum and regulating the orbits of Geostationary (GEO) and Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) satellites.

“When you have that many delegates from that many countries, there’s bound to be conflict,” added Kenneth Turner, the deputy director of spectrum policy in the Pentagon CIO’s office. He predicted long and difficult discussions, with “many late nights … tough deliberations and negotiations.”

“There are no easy answers,” Turner concluded. But there may be some hard ones, noted Charles Glass, the chief of the International Spectrum Policy Division at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Glass, a veteran of many WRC meetings, predicted that, although agenda item 1.13 would be very contentious, it would get satisfactorily dealt with. “There’s no agenda item that the conference and the [national] administrations [attending] are more committed to solving than 1.13 … Everyone will be working towards a common solution that provides the least impact on incumbent systems while maximizing the economic opportunities” that can come from 5G.

Moreover, everyone involved had a stake in reaching a solution, he pointed out. “It’s very important to remember that satellites are an integral part of the 5G ecosystem and not only in the rural areas.”

Nonetheless, Glass added, this WRC was “unique, in that we normally have one or two agenda items that I would count as highly politicized, this time we have six.”

Despite that, he predicted that any big upset is more likely stem from an unforeseen issue. “The real fight at every conference is the agenda item you don’t pick as your priority agenda item. There’s hasn’t been a single [WRC] conference that I’ve been at where we haven’t been surprised by an agenda item we thought was going to be peacefully solved in week one and in week four, at 11.59 pm on the last day, we’re still talking about it.”

Manner agreed, pointing out that, at the last conference, WRC-15, in 2015, “It was the [discussion of] future agenda items that kept us up” until late into the night, she said — specifically the discussion of which spectrum bands should be included under item 1.13 and looked at for allocation to 5G services.

The other issue which panelists agreed was likely to prove controversial was number seven, which deals at every WRC with the regulations governing the frequency assignments for satellite networks and their orbits.

“Agenda item seven … really is a conference unto itself,” said Glass. “It is one of the most important agenda items at every conference because we have an ongoing battle ... making sure we have the best regulations in place to enable the economic opportunities that satellites bring.” VS