International allocation of radio frequencies
In order to meet the ever-growing radio spectrum needs of the satellite sector (and of all other sectors using radio frequencies), ITU oversees regular updates of the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of radio frequencies worldwide, including outer space.
These regular updates are performed through the convening of World Radiocommunication Conferences every four years.
Managing cooperative access
ITU manages a cooperative system of international coordination on the radio frequencies used by satellites, aimed at preventing such systems from interfering with each other or with other radio systems. It oversees a satellite frequency registration process whereby an ITU Member State sends a description of the radio frequencies planned to be used in a project of its satellite operators.
The ITU Radiocommunication Bureau examines the conformity of such descriptions with the Radio Regulations and publishes descriptions and results of ITU's examinations to all other ITU Member States.
Member States concerned that a project might affect their existing systems, including those submitted to ITU as plans, can then contact the initiating ITU Member State to bilaterally discuss technical solutions to ensure that both systems can coexist without interfering with each other. During these bilateral discussions, both parties should make every possible mutual effort to overcome the difficulties, in a manner acceptable to the parties concerned.
The result is a cooperative system managed and overseen by ITU as the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), and by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau in particular, whereby ITU Member States collaborate to allow satellite systems to operate harmoniously in outer space, free from radio interference.
Jurisdiction, frequency assignments, and milestones
Licensing is a matter under the jurisdiction of ITU's Member States. They license satellite systems, with each state ensuring that its own satellite operators follow the rules and conditions contained in the Radio Regulations, in the outcomes of relevant bilateral discussions, and in any specific domestic rules. Each Member State is free to enact such domestic rules, as long as those do not contradict the international commitments it has undertaken by signing the Radio Regulations.
'Radio-frequency spectrum warehousing' refers to the practice of 'reserving' radio frequencies and associated orbital resources without putting them into use, thereby preventing other parties from using those resources. To avoid the warehousing of radio frequencies, the frequencies assigned in response to a satellite filing must be brought into use within a specified timeframe (currently seven years from the date of receipt of the request) or else their validity expires.
As a further measure to discourage 'radio-frequency spectrum warehousing', ITU Member States at the last World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) – held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, between 28 October and 22 November 2019 – approved a milestone-based process for non-GSO satellite constellations. Accordingly, such systems are now required to achieve 10% deployment within two years (after the end of the current regulatory period for bringing them into use), 50% within five years, and complete constellation deployment within seven years.
Last update: February 2022