The agenda for the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-27) features numerous intriguing items. But, if I were asked to pick a few for a three-course meal from the 19 on offer, these would be my choices:
Starter – IMT
Although the WRC menu is usually full of satellite dishes (please forgive me for this joke), additional spectrum for IMT services has always been part of the main course section. Indeed, it was the most popular one in Dubai for WRC-23, where the mobile community prevailed over Big Tech, identifying the 6 GHz band for IMT even beyond the scope of the original Agenda Item (the AI was on Region 1, but large countries from Regions 2 and 3 joined too). This move effectively curtailed Big Tech’s aspirations to have 1,200 MHz of continuous worldwide harmonized spectrum (or at least in the West) for unlicensed use, mainly for Wi-Fi.
On this occasion, WRC-27 may offer IMT as a starter, since Agenda Item 1.7 considers the study of bands that, in principle, are not that controversial. However, one of the ranges under study is a portion of the Ku band, widely used by satellites, and the 7 GHz band, contiguous to the recently identified 6 GHz. This may bring us another round with the Wi-Fi community.
Main Course – Direct-to-Device
The 2027 menu offers many fine dishes for the main. At first, I was tempted to choose Agenda Item 1.5, which considers “regulatory measures to limit the unauthorized operations of non-geostationary-satellite orbit earth stations in the fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite services,” but this time I’ll go with Agenda Item 1.13, which relates to the link between satellites and the mobile phones we all carry in our pockets. This choice arises from the fact that, although the dream of making the “No Signal” message a thing of the past has not yet been fulfilled, it is precisely decisions like those made at a WRC that will shape the business model of this new technology.
Over the past year, many of the major satellite operators have made some form of announcement on this issue, preliminarily evaluating two models: 1) using mobile service spectrum — leaving mobile operators with their licensed spectrum as part of the business; and 2) using mobile satellite service (MSS), therefore enabling a service with no mobile operator involved.
The fact that WRC-27 will focus on studying “possible new allocations to the mobile-satellite service for direct connectivity between space stations and International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) user equipment to complement terrestrial IMT network coverage” signals that, at least at the international level, the preferred model would be to use satellite – and not mobile – spectrum for direct-to-device services. This means that, for the second consecutive WRC, mobile operators will have to “play defense” in 2027, just as they did in Dubai against the tech community.
Dessert – The Future
For dessert, WRC always gives you something sweet: the possibility to look ahead. In this case, a fresh agenda will be approved in 2027 to study new topics for 2031. High altitude platform stations (HAPS), for example, waited decades before finding their place in the Radio Regulations. Today, we have enough spectrum for both HAPS and high altitude IMT base stations (HIBS) to flourish.
With this in mind, everything is possible: more spectrum for IMT or a rematch for the Wi-Fi industry; a revision of power limits for NGSO systems or new measures to block their signals over some territories; more MSS bands for satellite-to-cellular or a new model using mobile spectrum. Everything is on the table.
To be successful at a WRC, a good strategy should follow two rules. First, talk early and often – start today – with all the cooks in the kitchen, meaning everyone involved or with a commercial or policy interest, including your competitors. Second, do not rely on any one government, no matter how powerful.
The ITU is a forum where consensus is the rule, and you need to start aligning positions from day one. You must explain the benefits of a certain course of action to all diners and produce the amuses bouche, those bland technical studies, to back up the vision. A successful meal is not a matter of luck and starts with pain-staking preparation with well-sourced ingredients, comfortable surroundings, and the best service, all of which are, we can agree, the least that the international community should expect of us. VS
Juan Cacace, Head of Global Market Access, Access Partnership. Access Partnership makes innovative technology work for the world. Guiding businesses and governments through complex regulatory challenges, it designs frameworks that optimize deployment, drive growth, and attract investment.