Satellite | Spectrum Management
October 28, 2019

WRC-19: Representing Africa

by John Omo, Secretary General, African Telecommunication Union (ATU)

World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs), are of profound significance to Africa and the world, by way of providing an unparalleled, authoritative platform to improve the world’s principal framework for the management of the radio spectrum and satellite orbital resources, i.e. the Radio Regulations (RR).

The role of ATU

The African Telecommunication Union (ATU) is the responsible institution for African preparations, participation and coordination at both WRCs and Radiocommunication Assemblies (RAs).

Preparations are mainly done via technical working group meetings which provide recommendations to the African Preparatory Meetings for WRCs. The latter’s mandate is to develop the African common positions and proposals to the WRCs and RAs, as well as, plan Africa’s participation.

The aspirations for Africa at WRC‑19

Every agenda item of the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19) is important. However, some agenda items are seen to be of greater significance to Africa. This is because they encapsulate the aspirations of Africa for the use of spectrum in the key areas of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for enhanced socio-economic growth and sustainability. The following lists some of these agenda items and their respective importance to Africa (note: the list is not in order of significance):

Agenda item 1.14: Facilitation of the new High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) in terms of additional spectrum identification or otherwise. The new HAPS systems appear to be a good solution for the rural connectivity challenge in Africa and globally. HAPS systems are “mobile base stations in the air” aimed at providing mobile/broadband connectivity to areas where terrestrial
infrastructure is hard to reach such as rural/remote areas.

Agenda item 1.13: Additional spectrum identification for IMT between 24.25 and 86 GHz to support 5G and the further growth of broadband and mobile communications in general. This is a crucial agenda item because it seeks the identification of 5G spectrum at a global scale to support the much needed economies-of-scale and system interoperability, thereby supporting global roaming of 5G devices.

Agenda item 1.4: Review of Annex 7 to Appendix 30 aims at streamlining the satellite orbital resource plan for satellite broadcasting to identify additional resources (in terms of both the orbital locations and frequencies) that could be available for countries whose orbital resources in the said plan can no longer be used, due to degradation of the operating environment, since the plan was established in 1977.

As most African countries are affected (i.e.) their planned resources in the original plan can no longer be used), the agenda item promises the much-needed relief for African countries to acquire new and usable satellite orbital resources for satellite broadcasting.

World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs), are of profound significance to Africa and the world.

Agenda item 1.5: Facilitation of earth stations in motion (ESIM) in 17.7–19.7 GHz and 27.5–29.5 GHz with a view to supporting the increasing need for mobile-satellite broadband communications on moving platforms (e.g. trains and aircraft). This agenda item is a welcome booster to the continued growth of the civil aviation sector in Africa and the need for on-board connectivity.

Agenda item 7: Improvements to satellite regulations so as to reflect and cater for the special needs of African and other developing
countries in terms of both the allocation principals of these resources, as well as attendant regulatory and administrative procedures. The scale of utilization of the satellite resources is skewed against the developing countries. Therefore, the issues which this agenda item seeks to improve — such as a special light-weight regime for satellite systems with short-duration missions — is key to Africa.

Agenda items 1.8 and 1.10: The Global Maritime Distress Safety Systems (GMDSS) and the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS), respectively. The proposed changes to GMDSS and GADSS regulations would result in enhancements of both safety and value-for-money through competition (by removal of monopoly).

As both the civil aviation and maritime sectors register unprecedented growth, it becomes extremely crucial that safety arrangements are also enhanced. The two agenda items seek to achieve this noble goal.

Agenda item 9.1 issue 7: Unauthorized (illegal) operation of satellite communication terminals. Regrettably, despite provision 18.1 of the Radio Regulations which prohibits the unauthorized operation of satellite communication terminals, such terminals continue to exist in Africa. To cub this vice, Africa is advocating for the establishment of additional mandatory measures to address the unauthorized operation of earth station terminals besides non-mandatory measures such as capacity building.

Agenda item 1.1: Facilitate global harmonization by way of allocating the amateur service in 50–54 MHz in Africa and Europe (known as Region 1 in ITU for the allocation of spectrum). Africa stands to benefit from the “weak signal communications” capability of the amateur service offered by the said frequency range. As is common knowledge, amateur service radiocommunications, though a hobby for the most part, can be very crucial in providing and supporting emergency communications in times of disaster.

Agenda item 8: Deletion of country footnotes or country names from footnotes in order to promote the harmonization of spectrum policy and use. This agenda item is key in fostering the much-desired harmonization in terms of spectrum policy and use.

Harmonized spectrum use among countries is crucial in fostering optimized use of the spectrum resource by preventing harmful interference among systems, and so promoting economies of scale (hence cheaper prices), and interoperability of communication devices, hence roaming from one country or region to another.

Agenda item 10: WRC‑19 agenda item 10 is a vehicle through which, based on the country/ regional proposals, WRC‑19 shall propos
to the ITU Council agenda items for WRC‑23 (and beyond if need be). Clearly, this agenda item is critical to Africa as it is the channel through which future African aspirations for the use of the spectrum could be included in WRC‑23, and be addressed as such. For example, studies for possible authorization of High Altitude IMT Base Stations (HIBS) to use existing International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) identifications in bands below 3 GHz, could be done within ITU if the issue is accepted as an agenda item for WRC‑23.

State of preparations for WRC‑19 and RA-19

So far, ATU has held three African preparatory meetings (APMs): in Nairobi (2016), Senegal (2017) and Cairo (2018), respectively. ATU has also convened three ATU WRC‑19 Working Group (WG) meetings; in July 2017 (Kenya), June 2018 (Zimbabwe), and June 2019
(Botswana).

As a result of the above and other undertakings, the African region has preliminary common positions on about 87% of the issues for WRC‑19 (see figure). It is expected that the last and final preparatory meeting scheduled for 26–30 August 2019 in South Africa, will confirm the preliminary positions, and develop common proposals on open issues — many of which now have a recommendation from the working groups.

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WRC-19: Representing Africa

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