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WRC-2015 and the impossible task of achieving a delicate balance

One of the main challenges for the ITU was to achieve the right balance in the recently concluded World Radio Conference (WRC) 2015 that was held for four long weeks, 2nd – 27th Nov in Geneva, Switzerland. The outcomes were hailed as a victory by most sectors and a satisfactory compromise by others. In fact this WRC seems to have achieved the impossible task of not significantly upsetting any major sector with its final outcomes. Here is a summary of what was achieved.

The satellite industry saw the outcome of the WRC-15 as successful. Part of L-band spectrum (1427 – 1518 MHz) was identified for IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications), requesting the ITU-R to determine the technical measures for ensuring compatibility with the mobile satellite services in the adjacent band of 1518 – 1559 MHz. While the lower C-band (3400 – 3600 MHz) was identified for IMT in most parts of the world, the upper part of that particular band (3600 – 4200 MHz) has been saved for the fixed-satellite services (FSS). That said, it must be noted that the 3600-3800 MHz range already has a co-primary mobile allocation as detailed in the European Frequency Allocation Table and is covered by an EC Decision (2008/411/EC) so an identification for IMT was not required to be able to deploy mobile broadband services in Europe. While additional spectrum in Ku-band (12 – 18 GHz) has been allocated for the FSS services, Ka-band (27 – 40 GHz) in use by satellite services has remained untouched but see the note below regarding this band under the "mobile" report out.

The broadcast industry also saw the outcome of the WRC-15 as successful since the lower part of its allocation in the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) band (470 – 694 MHz) was retained for broadcasting purposes only in Region 1. This band is of key interest also to the programme making and special events (PMSE) community that shares this band on secondary basis with the broadcasters. However all use of the band 470-960 MHz will be reviewed in WRC2023. That said an agreement was reached that allows a few lead countries, including the US (incentive auctions), Barbados, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Bangladesh, New Zealand, and some Pacific Islands to identify the band by country footnotes in the RR. This opens the door for other countries to add their names at WRC-19 or for countries in Asia to begin deployments in the band. In addition, India and Pakistan announced their intention to deploy networks using the existing mobile allocation. In EMEA, strong broadcast interests have pushed off any consideration of a mobile allocation until 2023.

The mobile industry welcomed the outcome of the WRC-15 which identified critical new spectrum to secure the future of the mobile internet via access to spectrum on a harmonized basis. There is now nearly global identification for IMT in 698-790 MHz, 1427-1518 MHz, and 3400-3600 MHz, plus access in very limited number of countries to 470-698 MHz, 3300-3400 MHz, and 3600-3700 MHz. The 700 MHz band (694 – 790 MHz) was identified for mobile broadband in ITU Region-1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) joining the existing allocations for Regions 2 (the Americas) and 3 (Asia-Pacific). Full protection has been given to television broadcasting as well as to the aeronautical radio-navigation systems currently operating in this frequency band.

In addition the following new bands (and their bandwidths) were identified for study via a new Work Item with a view for identification to IMT (5G) allocation:

· 24.25 – 27.50 GHz (3,250 MHz)

· 31.80 – 33.40 GHz (1,600 MHz)

· 37.00 – 40.50 GHz (3,500 MHz)

· 40.50 – 42.50 GHz (2,000 MHz)

· 42.50 – 43.50 GHz (1,000 MHz)

· 45.50 – 47.00 GHz (1,500 MHz)

· 47.00 – 47.20 GHz (200 MHz)

· 47.20 – 50.20 GHz (3,000 MHz)

· 50.40 – 52.60 GHz (2,200 MHz)

· 66.00 – 76.00 GHz (10,000 MHz)

· 81.00 – 86.00 GHz (5,000 MHz)

It is assumed that for 5G systems to be able to deliver the promised data rates, a minimum bandwidth of 500MHz would be needed per operator. Most of the bands identified above overlap the ones identified by Ofcom back in April when they published their proposal for 5G bands above 6GHz. While the African groups missed out on their demands for certain 5G bands, most other regions and regional groups got the majority of the bands they requested.

The 27.5-29.5 GHz range was hotly debated and the conference eventually decided not to include it for study (even though this range already has a co-primary mobile allocation in the ITU Radio Regulations). This means that some proponent countries could still theoretically enable access to this band for 5G without having to take into account the FSS services.

Another success for the mobile industry was the approval of a new work item to consider access to the 5350-5470 MHz band for RLAN within a wider review of the regulatory conditions for the whole 5 GHz range used today for Wi-Fi deployments.

While the amateur radio community lost out on the 47 GHz band (47 – 47.2 GHz) to the mobile community, they have welcomed the decision to have a new allocation in 5 MHz band (5351.5 - 5366.5 kHz) which will help maintain stable communications over various distances, especially for use when providing communications in disaster situations and for relief operations. They have also managed to get the 50 MHz band (50 – 54 MHz) harmonisation in Region-1 included in the WRC-19 agenda.

The emergency and critical communications community hailed their harmonisation achievements at WRC-15. All administrations have been encouraged to use part of the 694 - 894 MHz band to facilitate mobile broadband communications for robust and reliable mission critical emergency services in public protection and disaster relief (PPDR), such as police, fire, ambulances and disaster response teams. WRC-15 also reinforced protection to Search and Rescue beacons that transmit in the 406-406.1 MHz frequency band signals to uplink to search and rescue satellites, such as the Cospas-Sarsat system.

In a prompt response to the loss of flight MH370 in 2013, WRC-15 enabled improved global flight tracking in civil aviation. The frequency band 1087.7-1092.3 MHz has been allocated to the aeronautical mobile-satellite service (Earth-to-space) for reception by space stations of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) emissions from aircraft transmitters. This will allow signals from planes to be picked up by satellites as well as earth stations to facilitate reporting the position of aircraft equipped with ADS-B anywhere in the world, including oceanic, polar and other remote areas. Meanwhile back on earth another contribution to travel safety was supported with agreement for the 79GHz band to be used globally by the automotive industry for anti-collision radar technology.

The earth observation (EO) community were pleased with the agreement for new allocations in the 7 - 8 GHz frequency range needed to uplink large amounts of data for operations plans and dynamic spacecraft software modifications that will eventually lead to simplified on-board architecture and operational concepts for future missions of earth-exploration satellite services (EESS). Allocations of spectrum in the 9-10 GHz frequency range will lead to the development of modern broadband sensing technologies and space-borne radars on active sensing EESS. Scientific and geo-information applications will provide high quality measurements in all weather conditions with enhanced applications for disaster relief and humanitarian aid, land use and large-area coastal surveillance.

Short duration (3 years) small satellites (a.k.a. SmallSats - which includes nano and pico satellites) telemetry and control community managed to get 150.05 - 174 MHz and 400.15 - 420 MHz as a study item in WRC-19 agenda but were unable to get the additional 420 – 450 MHz as study item as well.

Unmanned aircraft and wireless avionics systems community were pleased as WRC-15 opened the way for the development by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of worldwide standards for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and identified the regulatory conditions that may be applied to such systems internationally. There was also an agreement on spectrum for wireless avionics intra-communications (WAIC) to allow for the heavy and expensive wiring used in aircraft to be replaced by wireless systems.

WRC-15 considered regulatory provisions and frequency allocations to enable new automatic identification system (AIS) applications and other possible new applications to enhance maritime radio-communication systems. New applications for data exchange, using AIS technology, are intended to improve the safety of navigation. New allocations were made in the bands 161.9375 - 161.9625 MHz and 161.9875 - 162.0125 MHz to the maritime mobile-satellite service (MMSS). Studies will continue on the compatibility between MMSS in the downlink in the band 161.7875 - 161.9375 MHz and incumbent services in the same and adjacent frequency bands.

WRC-15 agreed to facilitate the global deployment of earth stations in motion (ESIM) in the 19.7 -20.2 and 29.5 - 30.0 GHz frequency bands in the fixed-satellite service (FSS), paving the way for satellite systems to provide global broadband connectivity for the transportation community. Earth stations on-board moving platforms, such as ships, trains and aircraft, will be able to communicate with high power multiple spot beam satellites, allowing transmission rates in the order of 10 - 50 Mbps.

A new agenda item (AI 1.14) for the study of delivering broadband using high altitude platform stations (HAPS) was approved. This is very important for the likes of Google and Facebook who are actively looking at delivering broadband services at places that are hard to reach by terrestrial and mobile services. 38.0 – 39.5 GHz band has been identified on the global basis and in addition 21.4 – 22.0 GHz and 24.25 – 27.5 GHz has been identified in Region 2.

And that oddity on the WRC agenda the leap second proved too tricky to resolve this time round. In the best traditions of international meetings, more studies have been requested to report back at WRC-2023.

While it's only been couple of weeks since the conclusion of WRC-15, the spectrum workers have already started working towards WRC-19 which promises not only to be much larger but also more challenging, as we start to run out of the usable frequency bands.


techUK is hosting a Telecoms 2020 week, this week during which it is bringing you news, views and insights from the technology sector – showcasing the work of this sector and providing tech industry thought-leadership on what the telecoms sector will look like by 2020. All blog posts can be found here over the course of the week – Telecoms 2020 blog posts.

techUK has various programmes that have been working on identifying spectrum that would be suitable for next generation mobile networks. The Communications Policy Council and Satellite Applications and Services have both been working closely with the tech industry for making sure the available spectrum supports innovative future technologies and does not impact any existing applications and services already being used by various technologies of today.

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