World Radiocommunication Conference: Satellite Services at Stake

World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) come around every three or four years, and provide the satellite industry an opportunity to seek spectrum and rationalize international regulations. Like other WRCs, November’s conference has a variety of opportunities and threats for the satellite industry.

Those of greatest interest to satellite operators and service integrators include:

Agenda Item 1.1 – Mobile Broadband (IMT) Spectrum

Although the satellite industry was able to protect the satellite C band (3400-4200 MHz) from the mobile industry at WRC-07, the mobile industry is having another crack at opening up the band for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) services. WRC-07 allowed countries to “opt-in” to using the 3400-3600 MHz band for mobile services — an option taken up by most of Europe and a number of countries elsewhere. Under debate at WRC-15 is whether that spectrum band should be harmonized for mobile services on a global basis, and whether additional spectrum is required for IMT services above 3600 MHz. The outcome is in the balance, with strong government and private sector advocates on both sides; although compatibility between mobile services and satellite services has been studied for more than 10 years, there is still disagreement over whether sharing is possible. There has been a recent increase in countries supporting 3400-3600 MHz as an IMT band, suggesting that there could be inter-regional support for global harmonization in this band. However, if ITU member states believe that insufficient IMT spectrum is identified at WRC-15, this will increase pressure for a further IMT agenda item at WRC-19, potentially targeting more satellite spectrum.

Agenda Item 1.5 – Spectrum for Unmanned Aircraft

The WRC will examine whether existing Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) networks can be used to support the operation of civil unmanned aircraft. Although widely used for military applications, the use of unmanned aircraft is currently limited to a few specialized civilian applications (such as remote monitoring), but there is interest in extending the technology to provide a safety back-up for piloted aircraft or facilitate remotely-piloted freight transporters. Existing FSS networks can potentially provide global communications coverage, with extensive back-up capability, but the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has not yet concluded their safety requirements for such communications links. Studies within the ITU appear stuck until ICAO defines these requirements, and so a successful resolution of this agenda item seems unlikely at WRC-15.

Agenda Item 1.6 – Ku-band Spectrum for FSS

The Ku-band is extensively used for broadband connectivity, VSAT services, video distribution, and satellite newsgathering, and is becoming highly congested. Additional spectrum is needed in this band to meet the increasing demand for connectivity. ITU studies have identified bands that could accommodate a new downlink, required in Region 1 only, and a global allocation for a new uplink. There is, however, persistent opposition to the proposed uplink in the 14.5-14.8 GHz band from a small group of administrations concerned about coexistence with aeronautical telemetry users in the band. While the industry has shown willingness to work with these administrations to satisfy their concerns, the outcome of this agenda item is far from certain and the satellite industry may not get the spectrum it urgently needs.

Agenda Item 1.8 – Regulation of Earth Stations on Vessels (ESVs)

The conference will review the provisions relating to use of ESVs, based on ITU studies. Resolution 902 currently limits the use of ESVs to distances of at least 125 km from the low water mark as recognized by the coastal state for Ku-band and 300 km for C-band (unless prior agreement has been reached with affected administrations). The Resolution identifies minimum antenna diameters, carrier bandwidths and power spectral densities for ESV transmissions, but some of these may be unrepresentative of current ESV systems. Studies indicated that the minimum separation distances could be reduced under certain operational conditions, but administrations remain polarized on changes to the existing regulatory framework. Variations in ESV characteristics and difficulty in verification and enforcement has made current regulation of ESVs a problem for some administrations, and this further increases resistance to any change at this point. Operators hoping for some regulatory relief on this topic may need to start lobbying hard now.

Come November, when the world’s telecom regulators will be examining the studies and deciding on changes to the allocations and regulations, many satellite operators and equipment manufacturers will be lobbying hard to reduce regulatory constraints and improve capacity. Most will have been actively engaged in the process since the last WRC, but for those who have not been, there is still time to engage with regulators as they prepare for this crucial date. VS

Nina Beebe is director for emerging markets at Access Partnership in London. She assists satellite service integrators, operators and others in securing market access and licenses on a global basis.

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