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WRC Wraps Up With Key Agreements

By | July 14, 2003

      The International Telecommun-ication Union’s World Radiocommuni-cation Conference (WRC) wrapped up its month of spectrum allocation work on July 4 with key agreements for satellite and terrestrial wireless services.

      The WRC approved a compromise worked out at committee level that reduced the minimum dish size for fixed satellite services (FSS) in the 13.75-14 GHz band to 1.2 meters (47 inches) from the current limit of 4.5 meters (177 inches). In exchange, power limits were imposed to cut interference with U.S. military radar in that band.

      The WRC also approved a spectrum allocation for aeronautical mobile satellite services (AMSS) on a “secondary” basis in the 14-14.5 GHz band. AMSS, under development by Boeing [NYSE: BA] and other companies, will enable airline passengers to access broadband services in-flight.

      “Clearing this critical hurdle paves the way for global introduction of our high-speed in-flight connectivity service beginning next year,” said Connexion by Boeing President Scott Carson.

      Maury Mechanick, an attorney at the Washington, D.C. office of White & Case and a former chairman of Intelsat, said that these two decisions were the most important taken at WRC from the commercial perspective. On the FSS dish/military radar compromise, he said, “We accepted a reasonable change [to the FSS dish side], but a change that is fully protective of U.S. national security interests.”

      The WRC also gave final approval to an allocation of 455 megahertz of spectrum in the 5 gigahertz spectrum band for wireless local area networks (WLANs) that use the Wi-Fi standard. The allocation will harmonize the spectrum available for WLANs, allowing manufacturers to achieve economies of scale and lowering deployment costs for networks. Outdoor use of WLAN devices is allowed in the 5250-5350 MHz band.

      Scott Blake Harris, a managing partner at the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis and former International Bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission, said that the 5 GHz outcome was an “extraordinary success for both the private sector and the U.S. government. The global allocation of 455 megahertz of spectrum for what are likely to be unlicensed services will be an enormous boon for the growth of broadband in the United States and around the world.”

      Difficult Matters

      Harris said that the difficult issues, such as interference with military radar, were “worked out successfully.” The decision by the WRC to allow outdoor use of Wi-Fi devices even in the lower band “will be very important for the growth of these wireless data networks because the same equipment will be able to be sold any place in the world.”

      On the broadcast satellite service (BSS) front, the U.S. delegation was able to fend off attempts by Europe and Asia to raise the minimum BSS dish size to 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) from 45 centimeters (17.7 inches). This was important because direct broadcast satellite (DBS) users in the United States currently have dishes smaller than 60 centimeters.

      GPS Modernization

      In addition, the U.S. delegation was able to protect spectrum in the L-2 and L-5 band for modernization of the GPS satellite navigation system. WRC hammered out agreements to reduce interference between RNSS and aeronautical radionavigation services through power limits.

      The U.S. and Europeans were able to reach a compromise on an issue that arose unexpectedly at the conference. The Europeans wanted the radionavigation satellite services (RNSS), such as GPS and Galileo, to undergo a formal coordination process under Article 9 of the ITU’s radio regulations, which deals with FSS system coordination. As part of that effort, the European delegates proposed that Galileo have priority in the coordination process because the Europeans filed at the ITU before the U.S. filed for its GPS modernization plan. The compromise worked out calls for RNSS systems to undergo Article 9 coordination. But that requirement only applies to systems submitted to the ITU after Jan. 1, 2005. In addition, criteria will be placed on RNSS proposals submitted after that date to ensure that the proposed systems are viable. “We didn’t want to have to coordinate with an RNSS system from Benin that would never get built,” one U.S. observer quipped.

      The WRC ended up fudging the question of whether earth stations onboard vessels (ESVs) should be classified as fixed or mobile satellite services for regulatory purposes. The WRC agreed to allow ESVs to transmit in the FSS uplinks bands of 5925-6425 MHz and 14-14.5 GHz provided they meet certain technical limitations to reduce interference with fixed wireless systems while the vessels are in port.

      New Applications

      David Kagan, CEO at Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN), said: “Clearly these new regulations will benefit the whole ESV industry. There are many applications that could not be addressed without the techniques in the ITU recommendations and without a regulatory basis in the radio regulations of the ITU. This ITU ruling is great news for our industry, and great news for MTN.”

      The Arab and Japanese WRC delegations also had big satellite wins. The United Arab Emirates was able to secure additional spectrum for its Thuraya mobile satellite service (MSS) system in the 1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz bands. U.S. interference concerns were allayed by a compromise that excepted the Western Hemisphere from the MSS allocation.

      And Japan was able to get spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for a new satellite radio system it wants to deploy. The Chinese delegates unsuccessfully tried to block the spectrum allocation for Japan because China wanted that spectrum for fixed wireless broadband services.

      Europe, U.S. Pleased

      Commenting on the WRC’s impact on Europe, Erkki Liikanen, European commissioner for enterprise and information society, said that the conference “will facilitate the conduct of major community policies critically relying on radio spectrum, such as the promotion of broadband access over diverse platforms including [third-generation mobile service] and wireless LAN, and the Galileo undertaking. Besides these satisfactory results, which we will now analyze in detail, the European approach to WRC confirmed that close cooperation between technical experts and political [bodies] is essential for defending common interests at these complex global negotiations.”

      U.S. Successes

      U.S. Ambassador to WRC, Janice Obuchowski, saw the WRC outcome as beneficial to U.S. interests as well. “From the U.S. perspective, it was a very successful conference. Every item that was on the agenda was resolved successfully. With so many agenda items, it was very positive that the conference ended so productively and with a solid conclusion in consensus.” Obuchowski said that the conference was “surprisingly non-political. It was a very business-like conference.”

      Coordination Issues

      James Vorheis, director of international spectrum plans at National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that in addition to the specific agenda items tackled by the delegates, there were a set of satellite coordination issues that were hashed out at the conference. “A number of difficult satellite coordination issues [were worked out] which did not fall within the normal agenda but were of great interest to a number of administration. Much of that work went on behind the scenes and there were several U.S. delegates who were instrumental in helping to resolve those issues,” Vorheis said.

      Scott Pace, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administra-tion (NASA), said that NASA was pleased with the GPS agreements worked out at WRC because his agency is interested in using GPS for the International Space Station and Space Shuttle, as well as future aeronautical systems.

      More Items

      Below are highlights of other compromises reached at WRC:

      3G Wireless and Beyond: As the industry moves beyond third-generation wireless systems, the demand for seamless inter-working between telecommunication systems is expected to increase. The WRC agreed to study technical and operational issues relating to the future development of third-generation (3G) wireless systems and follow-ons to 3G.

      According to the ITU, these studies will take into account: evolving user needs, including the growth in demand for 3G services; evolution of 3G and pre-3G systems through advances in technology; bands currently identified for 3G; the timeframe in which additional spectrum would be needed; the period for migration from existing to future systems; the extensive use of frequencies below those identified in the radio regulations for 3G; and the use of satellites in combination with 3G to provide service to developing countries.

      Public Safety: The WRC approved a resolution that is expected to pave the way for the deployment of new technologies for wideband and broadband public safety and disaster relief applications. At present, public safety and disaster relief applications are mostly narrow-band supporting voice and low data-rate applications. It is anticipated that future applications will be wideband-based (with data rates in the range of 384-500 Kbps) and/or broadband-based (with data rates in the range of 1-100 Mbps).

      Countries are urged to use regionally harmonized bands for public safety and disaster relief to the maximum extent possible, taking into account the national and regional requirements and also having regard to any needed consultation and cooperation with other countries.

      The benefits of spectrum harmonization include increased potential for interoperability in public safety and disaster relief situations. It may also create a broader manufacturing base and increased volume of equipment resulting in economies of scale and expanded equipment availability and improved spectrum management. The ITU is encouraging manufacturers to take this agreement into account in future equipment designs, including the need for countries to operate within different parts of the identified bands.

      High-Altitude Platform: The issue of high-altitude platform stations (HAPS) was the topic of much negotiation during the conference. While the concept of HAPS isn’t new, there are new projects proposed that aim to provide wide-area fixed wireless services from balloon-like devices located in the Earth’s stratosphere. HAPS are in an advanced stage of development and some countries have notified ITU of systems in the bands 47.2-47.5 GHz and 47.9-48.2 GHz. While the decision to deploy HAPS can be taken on a national basis, such deployment may affect neighboring administrations, particularly in small countries, the ITU said.

      This decision includes a new resolution on the potential use of the bands 27.5-28.35 GHz and 31-31.3 GHz by HAPS in the fixed service. Results of some ITU studies indicate that in these bands, sharing between the fixed service systems using HAPS and other conventional fixed service systems in the same area will require that appropriate interference mitigation techniques be developed and implemented. The ITU said it would continue studies on technical and regulatory fronts. It will also study sharing between systems using HAPS and the radio astronomy service.

      Aeronautical Services: The need for compatibility between aeronautical and broadcasting services posed some challenges for WRC. Aeronautical systems are converging towards a digital environment that supports aeronautical navigation and surveillance functions, which need to be accommodated in existing radio spectrum space.

      A resolution on the use of the band 108-117.975 MHz by aeronautical services was approved by WRC. It recognizes the need for the aeronautical community to provide additional services to enhance navigation and surveillance systems, as well as passenger access to e-mail and Internet services through telecommunication data links. It also takes account of the need for the broadcasting community to provide digital terrestrial sound broadcasting.

      The resolution allows for the additional use of the band 108-117.975 MHz by the aeronautical mobile radionavigation service on a primary basis. However, such use is limited to systems that transmit navigational information in support of air navigation and surveillance functions in accordance with recognized international aviation standards. Surveillance functions include the observation of aircraft location, velocity and weather conditions for the purpose of air traffic control and situational awareness/collision avoidance between aircraft.

      The ITU said it would study any compatibility issues between the broadcasting and aeronautical services that may arise from the introduction of these additional aeronautical systems.

      High-Density FSS: There has been steady and global increase in demand for broadband services, such as those provided by high-density applications through FSS (HDFSS). HDFSS is an advanced broadband communication application that allows access to broadband telecommunication applications supported by fixed telecommunication networks (including the Internet).

      HDFSS systems are characterized by flexible and rapid deployment of a large number of earth stations employing small antennas. WRC has approved guidelines for the implementation of HDFSS in a number of frequency bands. These guidelines will help facilitate the implementation of HDFSS, thereby helping to maximize global access and economies of scale.

      –Fred Donovan

      (David Kagan, MTN, 954/538-4000 Maury Mechanick, White & Case, 202/626-3635; Scott Blake Harris, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, 202/730-1330; Terrance Scott, Connexion by Boeing, 206/655-9350; John Alden, U.S. WRC delegation, 202/371-6793; Keith Stimpson, ITU, 011-41-22-730-5260)

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