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November 13, 2019

WRC‑19: Enabling global radiocommunications for a better tomorrow

By Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) is playing a key role in shaping the technical and regulatory framework for the provision of radiocommunication services in all countries, in space, air, at sea and on land. It will help accelerate progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is providing a solid foundation to support a variety of emerging technologies that are set to revolutionize the digital economy, including the use of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud services.

WRC‑19 and the RR

Every three to four years the conference revises the Radio Regulations (RR), the only international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. The treaty’s provisions regulate the use of telecommunication services and, where necessary, also regulate new applications of radiocommunication technologies.

The aim of the regulation is to facilitate equitable access and rational use of the limited natural resources of the radio-frequency spectrum and
the satellite orbits, and to enable the efficient and effective operation of all radiocommunication services.

WRC‑19 is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 28 October to 22 November 2019 and its agenda covers a wide range of radiocommunication services (see examples at the end of this article).

WRC‑19 will play a key role in shaping the technical and regulatory framework for the provision of radiocommunication services in all countries.

The preparations for the conference included studies and discussions that take place in the ITU–R Study Groups, the Conference Preparatory Meeting, the ITU inter-regional workshops, and also within the regional groups. The very nature of the process and study cycle helps build consensus and facilitates the work of the conference, where final decisions are made. See the infographic for more information on the preparatory process.

Each World Radiocommunication Conference affects the future development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in many
ways, including:

    • Introducing and expanding access to the radio spectrum for new radiocommunication systems and applications;
    • Protecting the operation of existing radiocommunication services and providing the stable and predictable regulatory
      environment needed for future investments;
    • Avoiding the potential for harmful interference between radio services;
    • Allowing the provision of high-quality radiocommunications while protecting vital uses of the radio spectrum, particularly for distress and safety communications; and
    • Facilitating international roaming and increasing economies of scale, thereby making it possible for network and user
      devices to be more affordable.
Times of transformation

Currently, billions of people, businesses, and devices are connected to the Internet. ICTs are transforming each and every aspect of our lives, from the way people interact and communicate to the way companies do business.

People expect instantaneous high-quality connectivity, whether stationary or on-the-move, in their homes or outside in a crowd.

Companies search for new ways to increase their business and operational efficiency, whether by monitoring the condition of equipment and conducting predictive maintenance, or by monitoring customer data to offer personalized solutions. The increasing need for a new underlying ecosystem will be made possible by utilizing a variety of complementary terrestrial and satellite technologies/services.

The fifth generation of mobile technology, International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) 2020 (5G) promises to enhance the connectivity infrastructure that delivers high-speed networks to end users, carries the flow of information from billions of users and IoT devices, and enables a whole array of services to different industry verticals. Spectrum for 5G services will be one of the main topics of WRC‑19. More specifically, new allocations will be considered for the mobile service and identification for IMT of frequencies in the mm Wave bands (above 24 GHz).

In addition, satellite services aim at increasing connectivity, whether by providing access to broadband communications to unserved rural communities, or to passengers on aircrafts, on ships and on land, or by expanding backhaul of terrestrial networks.

WRC‑19 is addressing address fixed and mobile satellite services, earth stations in motion, and will revise the assignment procedures pertaining to satellite networks.

Leveraging the economic opportunities brought by technology should be possible not only for some, but for all. One target of SDG No. 9 is to increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least-developed countries by 2020.

Fortunately, new technological innovations support this goal. They aim at expanding broadband connectivity and telecommunication services to least-developed countries, underserved communities, rural and remote areas, including mountainous, coastal and desert areas.

Towards this end, WRC‑19 is considering spectrum for High-Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS) and will revise the regulatory framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Systems (non-GSO). HAPS, operating in the stratosphere, can be used to provide fixed broadband connectivity for end users, and backhaul for mobile networks, thus increasing the coverage of these networks.

Constellations of non-GSO satellites aim at improving quality, increasing the capacity and reducing the costs of satellite services, which should enable satellite operators to bring market solutions that increase access to connectivity.

Times of uncertainty

These are times of transformation, but also of uncertainty. The number of natural disasters have increased considerably in the last decades: hurricanes, earthquakes, storms, floods, and fires. Climate change is a reality: we are experiencing heatwaves, and observing long-lasting glaciers melt.

Taking this into account, SDG No. 13 on climate action targets to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. To reach this target, several radiocommunication services offer the solution required to monitor, mitigate and adapt to these events.

Satellite communications, and in particular space sensing and Earth observation systems are used to monitor the state of the oceans and the conservation of forests. They can detect natural disturbances in the state of the atmosphere and provide accurate climate predictions.

Radiocommunication services are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.

Other radiocommunication systems are also used to collect and transmit data related to weather conditions (humidity, rainfall rates etc.), for example IoT systems and radars. These sources of information form the critical mass needed to detect climate-related hazards.

Broadcasting and broadband services provide early warning to the population which reduces the impact of natural and environmental disasters by strengthening the resilience and increasing adaptive capacity.

Amateur radiocommunication services, among others, assist relief operations especially when other services are still not operational. More recently, HAPS have also been deployed to rapidly deliver services with minimal ground network infrastructure in disaster-relief missions.

WRC‑19’s decisions will affect services of utmost importance in these times of transformation and uncertainty. They will allow us to harness the power of ICTs to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities of today’s digital economy.

Conclusion

Radiocommunication services are deeply transforming the health, education, and transportation sectors. They are improving financial inclusion, increasing transparency and supporting accountable institutions, promoting sustainable agriculture, helping to preserve life in the air, at sea and on land. They are a crucial accelerator towards the achievement of all the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.

The four year preparation cycle leading to the WRC, the high-level of commitment of participants from governments and industry, done through arduous work and extensive international negotiations, both in the preparatory process and during the WRC‑19, will culminate in the signing of the WRC‑19 Final Acts and revising the Radio Regulations — the invaluable international treaty that is the foundation for rational, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum, enabling radiocommunication technology developments since the start of radiocommunications, 113 years ago.

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WRC‑19: Enabling global radiocommunications for a better tomorrow

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