As demand for satellite-based services continues to grow - particularly in the developing world, where satellites provide an effective way of delivering radio, TV and other services over large areas where ground networks are poor - ITU's Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) is working hard to optimize management of orbital and spectrum resources to ensure limited satellite capacity is shared fairly between all nations.
Today's 800+ are being used to deliver an ever-expanding range of services, from TV and radio broadcasting to weather forecasting, environmental and remote monitoring, in-flight communications and remote voice and data links. As the sole global agency charged with managing global spectrum and orbit resources, ITU's Radiocommunication Bureau needs to approve proposed orbital positions of all new satellites to ensure they don't interfere with existing systems and services.
For many years, that presented a major challenge in the form of so-called 'paper satellites' - non-existent satellite systems that piled up awaiting BR examination, effectively blocking the deployment of much-needed services in many parts of the world. Since all satellites in geostationary orbit effectively occupy a single ring, about 36,000 km above the equator, the need to leave space between orbiting satellites means there's a limited number of 'slots' available. That prompted the spurious registration and hoarding of slots by administrations and private companies as a hedge against further need, or to prevent rivals from making use of them.
Conscious of its mandate to ensure equitable access to wireless services, the ITU membership finally found a neat solution to the problem through a cost-recovery system whereby satellite owners reimburse BR for the lengthy and complex technical work involved in orbital coordination.
"The system has proved an effective answer," says BR Director Valery Timofeev, "removing non-existent satellites from the Space Register, eliminating the backlog of systems awaiting coordination, and reimbursing BR costs through a user-pays cost calculation model that's been in place and working well since 2006."
That's been good news for those developing new satellite applications like in-flight mobile telephony and Internet, or advanced climate-monitoring services. Satellite-based telephony and broadband Internet on aircraft has already been given the green light by ITU-R members, with service providers ramping up to begin offering voice and data calls later this year.
Other recent developments include WRC-07's extension of the primary radio frequency allocations for Earth Exploration Satellite Service (EESS) to promote the development of science services like disaster-prediction early warning systems, meteorology and climate change monitoring, as well as the harmonizing of technical and regulatory provisions for the fixed satellite service (FSS) at 800MHz, to maximize spectrum access for FSS services like communications, television and Internet.