Industry Leaders Weigh in on WRC-19, and What’s Next for Operators

The 2019 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-19) left the satellite industry filled with concerns over an uncertain future, as the need for broadband internet grows and multiple competing industries and nations compete for a limited supply of spectrum.

WRC-19, held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in late 2019 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, raised concerns such as the exposure of mid-band spectrum to new risks, and the plan to protect existing assets. As previously reported by Via Satellite, the delegates at WRC-19 established an allocation of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum to mobile, while protecting the high range of C-band spectrum for broadcasters. This frequency range is used for the satellite distribution of broadcast channels to Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

However, the future of C-band for 5G is still, literally, a bit up in the air, as mobile operators and satcoms continue to vie for a finite natural resource.

During the Tuesday SATELLITE 2020 session “Taking Stock of WRC-19: Risks & Opportunities for Satellite Operators,” led by a group of industry experts, panelists touched on these and other concerns, while offering their own insights on the challenges and opportunities for satellite operators and others between now and WRC-23.

The session — facilitated by moderator Aarti Holla, secretary general of the EMEA Satellite Operators Association — dug deep into specifics as panelists offered concerns over individual line-item provisions detailed in the 500-page WRC-19 post-agenda document published by the ITU.

Yet even in the thick of the discussion over satellite-industry interests and spectrum-use plans, some common concerns emerged — notably the challenge of striking a balance by effectively sharing spectrum with other industries, and working with terrestrial wireless operators.

Hazem Moakkit, vice president of Spectrum Strategy for Intelsat U.S. suggested he had many worries for the future in regards to satellite industry resistance to Wi-Fi.

“What worries us is the intensity of deployment, how they want to deploy,” he said. "If Wi-Fi deploys in a very pervasive way the issues are going to be the same … we are conducting a lot of studies in both directions. We worry about Wi-Fi and we worry about IMT [International Mobile Telecommunications].”

Next, Holla asked about decisions concerning Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) satellites and the extent to which they would impact satellite-communications providers.

“The buildout milestones [discussed at WRC-19] were particularly important to the new constellations,” said Ruth Pritchard-Kelly, OneWeb’s director of Regulatory Affairs. “And those were hard enough to come up with over the course of 30 or 40 years. There’s an infinite number of ways you can be geostationary … the challenge is the existing rules. What the latest rules have done is … after the ‘bringing into use’ period, there are buildout milestones. You can’t keep [spectrum] and do nothing with it. The buildout milestones have been imposed … Several of us are in a neck and neck race to be the first to provide the first global NGSO in [Low-Earth Orbit] LEO.”

Pritchard-Kelly noted that “years ago” there was a practice of putting in a paper filing with no intention of going forward.

“The buildout milestones will probably help thin the herd of the weakest, that’s not to say that three to five won’t go full steam ahead. There’s a huge demand for mobility and access at all time,” she said.

To that, Alexander Kuhn, head of International Spectrum Affairs for the German Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), said the question of what will happen if milestones are missed by 2% to 3% is still open.

On the topic of integration with 5G — and improving industry cooperation — Holla suggested that she’s seeing examples of engineers getting together with other engineers across all communications sectors, and making headway by developing numerous proposals for supporting an integrated communications tapestry, including satellite.

All panelists seemed to suggest that such cooperation will be more essential for the next meeting — WRC-23 — which is expected to take place in four years.

Panelist Ali Ebadi, advisor to the MEASAT Board of Directors, “Non-GEO will be one of the biggest discussions we have.”

“We will have the same principle debates,” added Kuhn.

“By 2023, one of these LEOs will be up and running and that will change the conversation dramatically,” Pritchard-Kelly said. “Connectivity is becoming a human right. Only space-based [communications technology] is going to fill every spot in the air.” VS

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