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Maritime IMO: Safeguarding spectrum for maritime services

Hans van der Graaf
Senior Technical Officer,
Secretary COMSAR Sub-Committee
International Maritime Organization

As the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety, security and efficiency of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) considers that the allocation and regulation of the use of spectrum for radiocommunication is of the utmost importance for the safe, secure, efficient and environment friendly navigation of ships.

The primary interest of the International Maritime Organization at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 (WRC-12) is to safeguard the current use of spectrum allocated to existing maritime services. The continuous growth in demand for spectrum by almost all radiocommunication sectors means that the maritime community has an interest in most of the WRC-12 agenda items. For instance, a proposed primary allocation to the radiolocation service in the frequency band 154-156 MHz under agenda item 1.14, if not properly regulated, could lead to out-of-band compatibility problems with the maritime mobile service operating in the frequency band 156-174 MHz. In such cases, IMO wants maritime services to be given an appropriate level of regulatory protection through measures to be incorporated in the Radio Regulations.

IMO also has an obligation to ensure that the conference has access to appropriate information on current and future maritime radiocommunication systems and technology. Two major projects, under consideration within IMO, will require amendments to the Radio Regulations in the near future: review of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS); and the implementation of e-navigation.

From IMO’s perspective, the most important items on the WRC-12 agenda are items 1,7, 1.9, 1.10, 1.23 and 8.2 as discussed below (see also the article “The maritime mobile service and safety systems for ships and ports”).

The importance of the L-band for the maritime mobile-satellite service

Under agenda item 1.7, the conference will consider the long-term spectrum availability and access to spectrum necessary to meet requirements for the aeronautical mobile-satellite (route) service. Studies carried out on existing mobile-satellite service allocations have concentrated on the L-band, in which the maritime service has also a great interest. The L-band is currently already heavily used by the maritime mobile-satellite service for safety of life radiocommunication and increased usage is anticipated, as more operators become licensed to provide GMDSS services in the near future.

It is IMO’s position that, in meeting the long-term requirements of the aeronautical mobile-satellite (route) service, "No Change" should be made to the existing allocation or regulatory and operational provisions of the designated bands 1 530-1 544 MHz (space to Earth) and 1 626.5-1 645.5 MHz (Earth to space) used for distress and safety purposes in the maritime mobile satellite service and for routine non-safety purposes. GMDSS distress, urgency and safety communications have priority in these bands.

New digital technologies for the maritime mobile service

Under agenda item 1.9, the conference is called upon to revise frequencies and channelling arrangements of Appendix 17 to the Radio Regulations in order to implement new digital technologies for the maritime mobile service.

There is significant interest in the use of the high-frequency bands by shipping. IMO has considered the potential for modern digital data exchange systems to replace narrow-band direct-printing and has noted that only certain core narrow-band direct-printing functions at high-frequencies need to be retained.

Today, more than 4500 ships are known to use digital systems, which automatically route messages to their destination, producing a million messages a month. New, highly efficient technology is being developed which in the next three years or so is expected to double this use.

IMO’s view on agenda item 1.9 is that the frequencies currently allocated for use by the GMDSS need to be retained because at this time IMO has no intention of changing the requirements for narrow-band direct-printing and digital selective calling. According to IMO, these requirements should be retained in Appendix 15, which covers frequencies for distress and safety communications for the GMDSS. The frequencies for maritime safety information within Appendix 15 also need to be retained, recognizing their essential role in promulgating this information.

The major portion of the Appendix 17 bands would, however, become available for new digital technologies for the maritime mobile service because the spectrum that would have to remain dedicated to narrow-band direct-printing and digital selective calling in order to support the functional requirements of distress communications and the promulgation of maritime safety information, would only amount to a small fraction of the Appendix 17 bands.

The frequency bands allocated for Morse should remain available for use by the maritime community, without the need to claim protection. IMO recognizes that the channel bandwidths within Appendix 17 are only adequate for narrow band systems. Therefore IMO supports the creation of wide band sub-bands within Appendix 17 for new technologies.

Operation of safety systems for ships and ports

Under agenda item 1.10, the conference will examine the frequency allocation requirements with regard to operation of safety systems for ships and ports and associated regulatory provisions, in accordance with Resolution 357 (WRC07). There is a global requirement to use radiocommunications to enhance ships and ports safety and security.

IMO notes that agenda item 1.10 refers to safety systems, but that Resolution 357 refers to safety and security systems. In the context of IMO, the term safety has to be interpreted as the safe movement and integrity of ships and security to ensure the provision of protection from threats.

At WRC-12, IMO aims to ensure that any allocation under agenda item 1.10 would not affect the frequencies used by the GMDSS. IMO wants regulatory protection for the frequencies used by automatic identification systems, taking the view that all operations on these frequencies should be regarded as having a safety function, not just search and rescue operations.

IMO supports an allocation to the mobile-satellite service (Earth-to-space) relating to the frequencies of Channel 75 and 76 of Appendix 18 to enhance the use of satellite detection of automatic identification systems.

Looking at possible future requirements for promulgating additional security-related information, as well as developments in regard to e-navigation and the forthcoming review of the GMDSS, IMO supports an exclusive primary allocation to the maritime mobile service in the band 495-505 kHz in Regions 1 (Africa and Europe), 2 (Americas) and 3 (Asia and Australasia) and a co-primary allocation in the band 510-525 kHz in Region 2. At the same time, the existing maritime mobile primary allocation in the band 415 – 526.5 kHz should be maintained, according to IMO.

IMO further supports a review of Appendix 18 for fulfilling additional requirements for VHF data services and the identification of more channels for availability as both single-frequency and two-frequency channels. It also supports joint IMO/ITU-R studies towards identification of a channel or channels for future applications, including man overboard (MOB) equipment.

New maritime mobile systems to be implemented in the 500 kHz band

Under agenda item 1.23, the conference will consider an allocation of about 15 kHz in parts of the band 415-526.5 kHz to the amateur service on a secondary basis. IMO has critical systems operating in this frequency range and is developing new requirements: (1) for the promulgation of additional security-related information, (2) for the implementation of e-navigation and (3) for reviewing the elements and procedures of the GMDSS. In this regard, an ITU-R Recommendation has been finalized in ITU-R Study Group 5, describing an MF radio system, named NAVDAT, for use in the maritime mobile service, operating in the 500 kHz band for digital broadcasting of maritime safety and security-related information from shore-to-ship.

IMO has concerns that, based on existing studies, a secondary allocation for the amateur service will cause harmful interference to existing and future systems and recommends that this allocation is not made.

Future requirements

When developing the agenda of the next World Radiocommunication Conference, IMO wishes to see WRC-12 include an item that would enable necessary amendments to be made to ITU regulatory provisions, including consideration of additional allocation of spectrum, with respect to the review of the GMDSS and the implementation of e-navigation.



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Updated: 2018-09-24