Full Agenda of Spectrum Issues at WRC-12

At the World Radiocommunication Council 2012 (WRC-12), experts will review the allocation of radiofrequency spectrum and orbital resources. A positive outcome for the satellite industry will be crucial to its future.Many satellite players enter 2011 with a sense of optimism, having largely performed well during difficult economic times. However, while an optimistic mood prevails, an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Conference that could have a major impact on the satellite sector is coming into focus, and once again, satellite players will have to battle wireless and telecom interests seeking to acquire the spectrum the satellite sector needs. The hard work starts now, and 2011 will be a critical year in preparation for WRC-12, which will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from Jan. 23 through Feb. 17.

During the three-week event, experts are due to revise the Radio Regulations, i.e., the intergovernmental treaty governing the use of the radiofrequency spectrum as well as the geostationary and non-geostationary satellite orbits. Such revisions are of paramount importance to the future of satellite services. While in the case of orbit resources, the satellite industry only will be facing what could be defined as internal issues, in the case of the radiofrequency spectrum, it will not be alone. Industry bodies and lobby groups from the wider telecoms sector will vie for influence within the council. The allocation of resources, i.e., frequency bands, to different radio services will be the battleground. The airwaves are getting crowded and competition will be fierce as the stakes for all parties involved are high. WRC-12, in other words, promises to be a busy event.

Busy Agenda

It is the Radiocommunication Sector’s (ITU-R) mission to ensure rational, equitable, efficient and economical use of the radiofrequency spectrum by all radiocommunication services, including those using satellite orbits, and to carry out studies and adopt recommendations and standards on radiocommunication matters. “The ITU-R mission emphasizes its major role as custodian of the radio frequency spectrum,” says Yvon Henry, who heads the space services department at the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (BR). “This can be achieved through effective international spectrum management, linked with standardization activities associated with the various radio services and systems concerned.”

The agenda for WRC-12 already has been shaped, in collaboration with state authorities, by the ITU, and the issues on the table at WRC-12 affecting the satellite industry are many. They include the convergence between radiocommunication services (agenda item 1.2); the use of spectrum for control links of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) (agenda item 1.3); and from the use of the band 21.4-22.0 GHz for broadcasting satellite service (BSS) in Europe, Africa and Asia, also known as ITU Regions 1 and 3 (agenda item 1.13); and the possible identification of spectrum for gateway links for high-altitude platforms (HAPs) in the range 5,850-7,075 MHz (agenda item 1.20). The issues also include possible changes to the advance publication, coordination, notification and recording procedures for satellite networks (agenda item 7), an issue affecting only the satellite sector.

The satellite industry’s stance in respect to these issues varies on a case-by-case basis, though it has often been described as defensive. “The satellite industry has been taking a defensive and offensive position depending on the specific agenda item,” says Kalpak Gude, vice president and deputy general counsel, Intelsat. “With respect to the convergence between services (agenda item 1.2) and the identification of spectrum for HAPs gateway links (agenda item 1.20), the position had to be more defensive.”

For agenda item 1.2, Intelsat’s position is that any change to the definition of radiocommunication services to take into account the convergence between satellite services, i.e., FSS, MSS and BSS, would have potential advantages but also would be too difficult to implement. “Also, possible changes in the radiocommunication definitions to accommodate the convergence between terrestrial services, i.e., fixed service (FS) and mobile service (MS), could have the negative effect of allowing MS operation in frequencies allocated on a primary basis to FS only,” says Gude. “Therefore, an NOC (i.e., No Change) is preferable, which can be seen as defensive.” Similarly, in agenda item 1.20, Intelsat’s position is that there is no justification to identify additional spectrum for HAPs since the spectrum currently identified for these systems has not been put to use. “In this case too, NOC is preferable,” he says.

Not all activity on the satellite sector’s part can objectively be classified as defensive, though, as some of it is proactive too. For example, the satellite industry is expected to bring to WRC-12 proposals to include an item in the agenda of the next WRC to identify new uplink Ku-band frequencies (approximately between 10 and 15 GHz) in order to eliminate the imbalance between uplink and downlink frequencies in the Americas and in Asia (ITU Regions 2 and 3). In addition, many would not agree at all with the opinion that the satellite sector is preparing to be largely on the defensive at WRC 2012.

“With several agenda items asking for more satellite spectrum, e.g., BSS, FSS, MSS and Aeronautical Mobile Satellite (Route) Service [AMS(R)S], the satellite industry is certainly not on the defensive,” says Astrium’s Jean-Claude Domien, who is responsible for ITU matters at the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA). “But since most of the spectrum is already allocated to other radio services, the satellite industry has to prove that we are able to co-exist to get more spectrum allocated to satellite services. This is certainly a problem since satellite services by nature are regional and therefore more dependent on spectrum harmonization.”

ESOA has prepared common positions on the satellite agenda items for WRC-12, which have been shared with other operator groups like the Asia-Pacific Satellite Communication Council (APSCC) and the Satellite Informal Group (SIG).

At a European level, these positions have been used by each operator to lobby their national regulators, thus resulting in a draft European Common Positions reflecting most of ESOA’s original positions. “This pressure will continue until February 17, 2012, the date of the end of WRC-12,” says Domien. “ESOA also invites all its members to take part in their national preparations to be able to discuss the different issues with their authorities to make them aware of the importance of the satellite issues at the next WRC.”

What Can Be Expected?

The question hanging over the satellite industry in relation to WRC-12, of course, is what outcome can be expected from the council. The mood among ITU experts seems to be positive by and large. “It is expected that WRC-12 will take positive decisions for the satellite industry with regard to spectrum requirements and regulatory procedures associated with the FSS, BSS, MSS, RDSS and MetSat,” say Nelson Malaguti and Philippe Aubineau, Counselors for ITU-R Study Group 4 and Study Group 1, respectively.

Yet, negative outcomes in agenda items 1.2 and 1.20 represent a potential risk for the satellite industry. Also in agenda item 1.13 (non-planned BSS band 21.4-22.0 GHz), there are proposals that deviate from the “first-come-first-served” principle. “In a non-planned band, such deviation would represent a dangerous precedent, especially in view of the risk of possible future proposals to utilize the same approach in other non-planned bands,” says Gude.

But there are clear opportunities, too. One such opportunity is in agenda item 1.3, where the possibility of using FSS spectrum for unmanned aircraft system control links would increase efficiencies, as the communication payloads of unmanned aircraft likely will extensively use FSS frequencies. Use of FSS frequencies for control links raises some concerns from those believing that these links should be operated on the AMS(R)S, however, with appropriate redundancy, FSS links can provide the availability values required by the unmanned aircraft control links.

Another important opportunity for satellites is in agenda item 1.25, which offers the possibility of allocating new spectrum to the MSS sector. “Further, the consideration of new FSS allocations for Ku-band uplinks will be proposed as an agenda item to the next WRC and offers an excellent opportunity for new satellite spectrum,” says Gude.

These views are largely shared within the industry. ESOA is confident the conference will not implement any form of a prior planning in the BSS bands and will confirm the existing interim provisions, including the ‘super-primary’ status of BSS with regard to terrestrial services.

A similar positive mood informs ESOA’s position on different agenda items. “Following intensive studies done in the last two years resulting in shortening the list of potential frequency bands, ESOA is convinced that the bands 15.43-15.63 GHz (uplink) as well as 5150-5250 MHz, 10.5-10.6 GHz and 13.25-13.40 GHz (for downlink) provide an excellent opportunity for the introduction of new MSS allocations,” says Domien. ESOA also supports the allocation of the band 24.65 – 25.25 GHz for feeder links in Regions 1 and 3.

An All-Satellite Business

The satellite industry has been quite active in all ITU and regional meetings addressing preparations for WRC-12. It fully supported the workshops on the efficient use of the orbit and spectrum resources promoted by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau and held in Wroclaw, Poland (June 2008), in Geneva (May 2009) and in Singapore (June 2010). In particular, these workshops raised several issues that will be addressed under agenda item 7 at WRC-12. Among these topics, the mismatch between satellite networks recorded in the ITU’s Master International Frequency Register (MIFR) and satellites actually in orbit should be highlighted. Eliminating these “virtual satellites” would contribute significantly to the efficient use of the orbit and spectrum resources. Several proposals in this connection will be discussed at WRC-12. These include the establishment of a definitive list of networks with which GSO-GSO coordination has to be effected, the reduction of the coordination arc and the elimination of unnecessary mandatory letters during the coordination process. In addition, it would help clarify the status of frequency assignments provisionally recorded and prevent their suppression without due process.

“But above all, it would help clarify the definition of ‘bringing into use’ and potentially modify the due diligence requirements aiming at more transparency and possible elimination, or at least reduction, of so-called ‘virtual satellites’,” says Gude.

2012 around the Corner

The preparation for WRC-12 continues, as ITU BR has been organizing a series of meetings on the issue. The second such meeting took place in November. “Based on the presentation of the draft Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM) report and on information regarding the bureau and regional preparations for WRC-12, this meeting provided participants the opportunity to exchange views and have a better understanding of the preliminary draft common proposals and positions of the concerned entities,” says Henry. ITU-R Working Parties are finalizing the technical information included in ITU-R recommendations and reports as appropriate. The second session of the 2011 CPM (CPM11-2) will take place from Feb. 14-25 to finalize the CPM Report to WRC-12.

What will remain to be done then, is to tackle these issues at WRC-12.

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