Emerging Trends | Satellite
April 26, 2019

Satellite communications: An essential link for a connected world

By Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

Satellite communications are everywhere, but all too often remain invisible to the general public, which is both an indication of their successful integration into the overall telecommunication market, and sometimes an obstacle to a proper understanding of their vital importance for an interconnected world.

This year, more than 3000 delegates representing most of ITU’s 193 Member States, along with representatives from among ITU’s 800+ private-sector members, and international organizations, will gather in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh at the kind invitation of the Government of Egypt, for the World Radiocommunication Conference.

The latest edition of the ITU News Magazine presents the variety of applications and services provided by today’s communication satellites.

Satellite technologies are more and more diverse and pervasive, but they all rely on the same core element: the availability of radio frequencies that can be operated free from harmful interference.

Radio frequencies —  Radio Regulations: an enduring success

In order to ensure this availability, the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the associated satellite orbits (both geostationary and non-geostationary), on the one hand allocate specific frequencies for various space applications, and on the other hand, contain detailed technical provisions and regulatory procedures to ensure the rational, equitable, efficient and economic use of spectrum/orbit resources.

These procedures are based on a cooperative system, whereby ITU Member States provide the characteristics of their intended use of orbit/spectrum resources, the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau examines their compliance with the Radio Regulations, and then publishes them so that they can be coordinated with other ITU Member States who have satellite projects that could be affected.

Once the above procedures are completed, satellite frequencies are entered into the Master International Frequency Register, where they enjoy the legal rights (mainly of operating free from harmful interference) obtained in conformity with the Radio Regulations.

Keeping pace with innovation: the role of World Radiocommunication Conferences

But, with rapidly evolving technologies, innovative applications and new business models recently blossoming in the satellite industry, this treaty needs to adapt and be regularly updated: this is the role of World Radiocommunication Conferences.

Such Conferences take place every four years and consider an agenda elaborated and agreed by the previous one. The various agenda items trigger three years of technical and regulatory studies performed within the ITU–R Study Groups to support the work of the Conference by providing possible alternative options to satisfy the needs expressed by the agenda item. Of particular relevance for the satellite communication industry is Study Group 4 (SG 4), whose Chairman has kindly agreed to provide insights on the work of the group.

As with every Conference, the agenda for this year contains several items related to satellite communications:

  • providing additional spectrum for satellite broadband Internet access on moving platforms like ships, planes or trains;
  • looking for a harmonized band for telemetry and telecommand of small satellites;
  • setting the operational conditions of nongeostationary satellite systems in the 50/40 GHz range;
  • providing additional spectrum in the same range for geostationary satellite systems;
  • regulating the deployment of megaconstellations of non-geostationary satellite systems to prevent radio-frequency warehousing.

As you can read from this non-exhaustive list, the space industry is developing major innovative technologies that will be discussed in Sharm El-Sheikh, and I am sure that Member States will find consensual solutions to accommodate them in the Radio Regulations. Traditional satellite applications like satellite television or satellite news gathering may not be on the agenda of the next World Radiocommunication Conference, but video is still a major satellite market, and you will be able to read in this edition about some innovations that can also be expected in this field.

Integration of satellite communications in the 5G ecosystem

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) Study Groups not only conduct studies related to the agendas of World Radiocommunication Conferences but also elaborate a number of Recommendations, Reports and Handbooks (all of which are publicly and freely available) that contain global up-to-date technical standards related to satellite system equipment or best practices about spectrum/orbit resource management. One of the current topics being studied by ITU–R SG 4 outside of the conference process relates to the integration of satellite communications in the 5G ecosystem.

As it was noted in the report issued in September 2018 by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development on “The State of Broadband 2018: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development”, “Satellite technology can also help relieve the congestion and overloading of networks. In future, it will support 5G and ensure connectivity in times or areas where terrestrial networks are unavailable.” It is therefore now essential to undertake the necessary studies to ensure that satellite communications will integrate with terrestrial systems, to offer a seamless experience to the end-user.

Get involved!

I would like to conclude by reiterating that all space actors have a role to play in building a connected world, and I therefore invite you to get involved in ITU–R activities, not only in the coming months leading to the World Radiocommunication Conference, but also in the long term.

I hope that you find this edition of ITU News Magazine — and the selection of articles from authors chosen by ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau — informative, interesting and useful.

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Satellite communications: An essential link for a connected world

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