With the relentless expansion of wireless services worldwide, ITU's Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) has its work cut out for it, with over 40 radio-based services now competing for an increasing share of the world's radio-frequency spectrum to support new services or growing user numbers.
ITU, through ITU-R and its executive arm, the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR), is the sole global agency responsible for management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. As well as managing the orbital 'slots' governing the physical position of geostationary satellites, ITU-R is custodian of the Radio Regulations, the binding international treaty that determines how the usable part of the radio frequency spectrum is allocated between different services.
Put simply, that means ensuring that your mobile phone or WiFi connection doesn't interfere with FM broadcasting stations, maritime communications, air traffic control or the dozens of other services that rely on interference-free radio links.
Covering fixed and mobile terrestrial radio services, satellite systems, analogue and digital radio and TV broadcasting, radio navigation and communication systems, meteorological monitoring, space research and even amateur radio, the Radio Regulations encompass over 2,000 pages of texts and charts that prescribe how equipment and systems must operate to ensure peaceful cohabitation in today's increasingly overcrowded airwaves.
The ITU Radiocommunication Bureau is responsible for maintaining the Master International Frequency Register that contains the details of radio stations all over the world that enjoy international protection against interference.
Partnership and consensus
The Radiocommunication Sector also plays a central role in developing global standards for radio-based telecommunications systems, including terrestrial and space systems.
Technical standards are hewn out of in-depth work within the Sector's seven Study Groups - groups of experts drawn from government, industry, academia and regional and international organizations, who work in concert to develop consensus on the systems and services that will define tomorrow's wireless landscape.
In ITU-R Study Group meetings, representatives from different horizons get together to define new platforms, such as IMT-Advanced, i.e. next-generation mobile beyond 3G.
ITU-R Recommendations, aren't just good for business - driving economies of scale and more flexibility in choosing partners and service providers - they're often essential to the proper functioning of radio equipment in an environment where everyone's effectively using spectrum resource.
As you'd expect, membership of ITU-R reads like a who's who of the world's wireless industry; today's 265+ members include all major equipment makers and telcos, the aerospace industry, aviation and maritime navigation systems makers and many of the world's most important scientific research organizations, which use radio technologies for everything from imaging the planet's interior to the exploration of distant worlds via radio astronomy.
As for the Radio Regulations, ITU-R oversees and updates the texts through a global treaty-making conference called the World Radiocommunication Conference, held on average every four years to review and revise provisions in the light of evolving radio service requirements. The most recent conference, held in Geneva in October-November 2007, welcomed a staggering 2,800 delegates from 164 ITU Member States, along with representatives from 104 Observers, including scientific research organizations like the International Astronomical Union, standardization bodies such as ISO, and service providers like IATA. The next WRC will be held in Geneva, Switzerland from 23 January-17 February 2012.
Equitable access to a finite resource
The BR's origins date back to 1927, when the signing of the first global Radiotelegraph Convention led to the setting up of the International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR). The end of World War 2 saw the establishment of the International Frequency Registration Board, which had the task of managing growing demand for radio frequency allocations. Not long after, the listing of all radio-based services in the Table of Frequency Allocations was deemed mandatory, and the international treaty known as the Radio Regulations was brought into force.
Leading edge products
Examples of leading-edge products and services based on ITU-R Recommendations include broadband wireless access systems, mobile TV, and Intelligent Traffic Systems.
At the same time, ITU-R is currently extending its IMT-2000 framework - the current platform for 3G mobile - to support broadband multimedia services. Known as IMT-Advanced, the project will take into account these new technologies.