Digital transformation has become the engine of world economic and social development. Radiocommunications are the vector by which most of this transformation is taking place. They contribute, directly or as enablers, to each and every one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as part of their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Mobile and broadcasting networks, satellites, radio relays, radars, drones, short range wireless technologies are constantly providing us with a wealth of information or applications that we use seamlessly without realizing that they all rely on one common and intangible resource: spectrum.
It took only a few years after the decisive experiments on wireless telegraphy by Alexander Popov (1895) and Guglielmo Marconi (1901) to agree on the need to globally manage this essential resource in a rational way and sign the first international treaty regulating its use, the International Radio Telegraph Convention (1906). The annex to this Convention contained the first regulations governing wireless telegraphy, which have since been expanded and revised by numerous World Radio Conferences (WRCs), and are known as the Radio Regulations.
Only two years after the first television experiments, the International Radiotelegraph Conference (Washington, 1927) adopted the first table of frequency allocations, including broadcasting, and created the International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR) in order to conduct technical and related studies on radiocommunications.
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The ingredients for the ITU to enable the sustainable development of the global wireless ecosystem were in place. Since then, the CCIR/ITU–R Study Groups have been at the centre of the activities of the ITU to fulfill its purpose of ensuring the rational, equitable, efficient and economic use of the radio-frequency spectrum by all radiocommunication services.
2017 marks the 90th anniversary of the “CCIR/ITU–R Study Groups”, a testimony of global collaboration to produce universally applied regulations, standards and best practices which enable the sustainable development of the wireless ecosystem for all, as illustrated by the continuous growth in the use of wireless communications in the last thirty years. Innovative technological solutions using radio transmission are laying the foundations for a truly wireless world.
Radiocommunications have become pervasive in our lives, from personal devices such as mobile phones and radio-controlled watches, radio headsets to equipment for home and office networking, radio positioning systems for navigation, intelligent transport systems, intelligent cities, broadcasting through radio and television, Earth imagery and meteorological satellites, and emergency communications and disaster warning systems.
“The WRC process, constantly supported by the CCIR/ITU–R Study Groups, delivers, through regular updates of the Radio Regulations, a stable and predictable global framework which ensures the long-term protection of the investments of a multi trillion-dollar industry, through the universal commitment of governments and all other stakeholders.”
In parallel with the WRC process, the work of ITU–R Study Groups also enabled, through the adoption of globally harmonized standards, the successful development of a number of mass market applications, like short wave and FM sound radio, analogue and digital television broadcasting, Wi‑Fi and Bluetooth, satellite positioning (e.g. GPS, Glonass, Galileo or Compass) and satellite television reception. Today, more than one billion people watch TV through digital terrestrial television broadcasting and a similar number through satellite dishes, in frequency bands which have been harmonized globally by the ITU–R for many decades, since the corresponding technologies became available.
Less visible, but equally important, the ITU–R process is the enabler of satellite imagery and Earth resources monitoring, space science and missions, meteorology, maritime and aeronautical transport and safety, civil protection and defence systems.
In order to function properly, all radiocommunication systems make use of specific radio frequencies, taking advantage of their different propagation characteristics. However, these are ruled by the laws of physics, not by national borders. Consequently, as radio technology developed, the international community established a global regulatory framework, the Radio Regulations, in order to ensure harmonized use of spectrum and prevent radio interference. Complying with this framework is an essential task for administrations to ensure their services obtain international recognition and are compatible with the services of other administrations.
Since 1979, the Radio Regulations have been revised and updated every three or four years, in order to keep pace with the rapid expansion of existing systems and new, spectrum-hungry advanced wireless technologies. The ITU WRCs are at the heart of this updating process and the ITU–R Study Groups at the heart of their preparation, which culminates six months before every WRC, with the adoption of the Conference Preparatory Report, a nearly 1000‑page document summarizing several years of studies by ITU–R Study Groups on the technical, operational and regulatory/procedural issues relating to the WRC agenda.
On this foundation, the conduct of careful technical, operational and regulatory studies ensures that the modifications to the Radio Regulations introduced by WRCs respond to rapid technological and social evolution while keeping harmful interference within manageable limits under all circumstances, thereby ensuring the right balance between the protection of incumbents and the satisfaction of emerging needs.