ITU Satellite Work Between the Radio Conferences

Much of the technical background work behind the international radio regulations (RR) of the ITU is prepared in the period between world radio communication conferences by the ITU-R Study Groups. The study groups prepare draft recommendations, reports and handbooks in the radio communication sector. Further work is conducted between radio conferences by the Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM), another group in its own right that prepares a voluminous report before each conference.

Six main study groups focus on issues ranging from spectrum management in general to science services. Study Group 4 (SG4) focuses on satellite services. WRC-12, which finished in mid-February 2012, established yet another group named Joint Task Group 4-5-6-7 to consider additional spectrum allocations for mobile services. As this topic crosses numerous services, it takes in a broader set of participants than any of the separate study groups.

The main study groups, in turn, are divided into working parties that focus on more specialized issues within each general topic. For instance, within SG4, there are three working parties, such as Working Party 4A (WP4A) that will work on efficient orbit/spectrum utilization for fixed and broadcasting satellite services (FSS and BSS).

A detailed ITU-R resolution 1-6 lays out the working methods for these various bodies, including their interaction, structure and types of output. The ITU says that more than 1,500 specialists from providers and administrations around the world participate in the work of these study groups.

With the dust barely settled from WRC-12, the CPM and study groups have already swung into action.

The CPM15 held its first meeting the first business day after the WRC-12 concluded. Its February 20 – 21 meeting prepared the initial structure for its report due in 2015 for the next radio conference (WRC-15) and organized its work. Its meeting report sets out the draft agenda for WRC-15 and even a preliminary agenda for WRC-18, six years hence. It also provides the permanent numbers for the various resolutions adopted at WRC-12. Further, the meeting report identifies persons responsible for chapters in the ultimate CPM report. The rapporteurs for chapter four and five on satellite services and regulatory issues are officials from China (FSS), Iran (MSS) and United Arab Emirates (regulatory).

SG4 will not meet until late September 2012 in Geneva, but its working parties are already scheduling work. WP4A set its first meeting in this new study period for May 30 to June 6, again in Geneva. It will meet again just before the SG4 to feed its results in the larger meeting.

During the period before the WRC-15 event an enormous number of documents will be submitted and considered. In the preceding period between WRC-07 and WRC-12, the WP4A alone considered 609 separate submissions, not counting administrative papers or the swirl of temporary papers that are prepared during the meetings themselves.

The number of documents, length of meetings and long time frame for these study groups is tied to the number of complex questions that they must consider. The updated list of SG4 questions was published in March 2012. It sets out 55 discrete questions for SG4 and its working parties to deal with. Of this list, WP4A is responsible for more than half, at 28, with four of those questions also being “shared” with other working parties.

The questions are divided into five categories, depending on their urgency and whether they are required by a radio conference or by some other entity (for example by the ITU Council). WP4A has its share of urgent questions, as 14 of its 28 fall into this category.

These questions cover a wide range of issues. Some are more or less permanent. For example, “urgent” Question 42-1/4 on characteristics of earth station antennas in the FSS was first adopted in 1990, and in this latest study question period calls for (yet another) report or recommendation by 2013. Only two in the long list of questions are newly established from 2012: Question 289/4 on interactive satellite broadcasting systems and Question 290/4 on broadcasting-satellite means for public warning, disaster mitigation and relief. Both of these new questions call for results by 2013.

The bottom line is that the work of the ITU-R is never done. Much is going on “behind the scenes” in preparation for the highly visible world radio communication conferences.

Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan Lovells Brussels office.

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