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Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

​Association Luxembourgeoise Des Ingénieurs
The International Telecommunication Union and Outer Space : Today's Challenges and Future Broadband Perspectives

06 March 2014, Luxembourg


Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a tremendous pleasure to be here with you here in Luxembourg and to have the privilege to address the prestigious ‘Association Luxembourgoise des Ingénieurs’. I myself had the good fortune to train as an engineer, and I continue to have tremendous respect for the profession.

I have been asked to speak today about ’The International Telecommunication Union and Outer Space: Today' ̇s Challenges and Future Broadband Perspectives’.

I am especially pleased to be able to address this subject, as satellite technologies are very close to my heart – and they have occupied a very important part of my professional life, both in the public and private sectors.

Before moving to ITU in Geneva in 1998, I was able to benefit from extensive first-hand experience in the satellite industry – in my home country, Mali, and then with Intelsat in Washington, and finally with ICO.

That experience was a key input in shaping the approach I brought to ITU’s Development Sector from 1998 to 2006, and also of course to my present position as ITU Secretary-General since 2007.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ITU is unique among UN-specialized agencies in having a mix of public and private sector members. In addition to our 193 Member States we also have around 700 members comprising the world’s leading ICT operators, equipment manufacturers, software developers, service providers, R&D organizations and local, regional and international ICT bodies.

I believe this is the great strength of ITU.

For almost 150 years, we have worked alongside the industry we serve, building global consensus, reconciling competing interests, and forging the new technical standards that have served as the platform for the development of what is now the world’s most dynamic business sector.

Through all this, we aim to bring affordable, equitable communications services to all the world’s people, and we strive to foster peaceful cooperation among nations through the equitable sharing of global resources – for the betterment of humanity as a whole.

Sine the birth of the very first commercial satellite systems in the 1960s, we have been performing the vital technical and regulatory coordination and oversight functions essential to the ongoing growth of the satellite sector – in close cooperation with other stakeholders and bodies with a shared interest in keeping space peaceful and harmonious.

I am pleased that we have been able to perform this role in the past – and I am confident that we will continue to address current and future challenges for the benefit of all mankind.

As many of you will surely know, ITU is the sole global agency charged with managing the world’s shared radio spectrum and orbital resources.

Our responsibilities in this regard include :

ITU’s work covers all types of civil and governmental satellite systems in all services – with the most popular being the Fixed Satellite Service, the Mobile Satellite Service, and the Broadcasting Satellite Service.

These systems – with some 400 geostationary satellites currently in operation – deliver services both for commercial interests and for governments.

Around 40 new satellites are launched each year, either for replacement or for additional capacity. The ITU processes over 300 GSO satellite networks annually, and over 2,300 are recorded in the Master International Frequency Register.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our work focuses on ensuring the essential services delivered over satellite systems can function as they should – without risk of what we call ‘harmful interference’.

In the radiocommunication world, this term refers to interference between two operating radio frequencies that seriously degrades, obstructs or repeatedly interrupts either or both services.

Harmful interference is a potential problem for any kind of radiocommunication service; but for satellite systems, it is particularly problematic for a number of reasons – beyond the simple laws of physics and the fact that radio waves do not stop at national borders.

One very important reason is that some satellite-borne services – such as air navigation for aircraft – have a crucial safety element, meaning that interference becomes a very serious matter indeed.

Another is the sheer cost of manufacturing, launching and operating a satellite for 12 to 15 years – which runs into hundreds of millions of dollars per satellite. For this reason, resolving harmful interference a posteriori, through hardware modifications, is not an option.

A third is increasing overcrowding in space – particularly around ‘prime’ geostationary orbital slots – which is making it hard to ensure that new systems do not interfere with existing ones.

Thirty years ago, when the satellite industry was still relatively young, six degrees of spatial separation between geostationary satellites using the same frequencies over the same geographic area was considered a minimum to ensure coexistence.

Ten years ago, this dropped to three degrees.

And today, with demand for services driving the deployment of more and more space systems, ITU is dealing with spatial separation of as little as two degrees or even less, in the so called ‘high quality’ slots that position satellites to reach the largest number of potential users.

And space technology moves very fast.

While we originally dealt with demands in the geostationary orbit at 6/4 gigahertz, we now get demands up at around 100 gigahertz.

Distinguished colleagues,

ITU’s coordination role for new satellite deployments involves complex technical calculations and liaison with national administrations whose satellite systems and terrestrial stations may be impacted by transmissions from a new satellite.

We map any planned system against the precise operating characteristics of all relevant systems and stations already included in the Master International Frequency Register – to ensure that the new system will be able to operate free of harmful interference from satellites already in orbit, and will not itself cause harmful interference to existing services.

ITU coordination can be particularly crucial for systems deployed by countries in the developing world, where technical glitches can have a huge impact – either because of the difficulties in financing satellites in the first place, or because the total number of satellites serving developing regions is already lower than for developed parts of the world.

ITU satellite coordination is mandatory for ITU Member States – and with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for operating a satellite, very few operators are prepared to take the risk of going it alone.

Inclusion in ITU’s Master International Frequency Register confers the international rights and obligations of administrations, and in particular the international recognition and protection of individual satellite systems.

it is true that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain suitable new orbital positions and frequencies and to fully coordinate them in accordance with the provisions of the Radio Regulations.

Efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources is therefore one of the most crucial challenges facing the international community today in its efforts to promote ICT development and to achieve the connectivity access targets set by the Word Summit on the Information Society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be able to report that we have recently made good progress at ITU in this regard, notably through the outcomes of the most recent World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-12, which took place two years ago, and which brought together a record number of participants.

WRC-12 successfully addressed the 33 items of its agenda – and all decisions were taken in full consensus, without the need to go to a vote at any point.

Everyone here today will appreciate how well this illustrates the success of the multi-stakeholder approach ITU has taken towards decision-making at conferences throughout its long history – and it may be worth pointing out that we are the oldest international organization in the world, dating back to 1865, so we have quite a proven track record in this regard.

Distinguished colleagues,

The results of WRC-12 are encouraging for the satellite sector – and for outer space.

New regulatory provisions adopted to resolve current difficulties will be further reviewed by WRC-15 next year, and strengthened, if necessary.

This undoubtedly represents the biggest challenge in front of us for the satellite industry: how to reduce the apparent congestion of this common resource?

Several possibilities can be envisaged :

Either one of these possibilities, however, entails the risk of restricting the operational flexibility of satellite operators or increasing costs for end users.

The impact on the equitable access to these resources by all countries of the world also needs to be assessed, recognizing that the current situation also threatens this equitable access by favouring incumbent systems.

In addition, a large part of the attention of WRC-15 and its preparations will be devoted to responding to the spectrum requirements of satellite services.

Nine of the eighteen WRC-15 non-recurring agenda items will consider additional allocations to satellite services, or specific uses within these services – such as International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT); unmanned aircraft systems (UAS); or earth stations on board vessels (ESVs).

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close by saying a few words about future broadband perspectives.

Over the past two decades we have been very successful in bringing the benefits of ICTs, and especially mobile cellular communications, within reach of almost all the world’s people.

And yet we still face tremendous challenges – because while we have bridged the original digital divide, a new one has already opened up; with two thirds of people in the developing world still offline.

This is not simply a matter of connectivity for connectivity’s sake: it is a question of global justice and a moral imperative for each and every one of us. We simply cannot deny the undisputed social and economic benefits of advanced ICT services to well over half of the world’s people.

This is why ITU and UNESCO launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010: to help stimulate broadband infrastructure roll-out across the whole world, and to bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.

The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation. We also have almost 60 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.

The Commission has been very successful in raising broadband as a vital issue of global concern at the highest political levels, and we have two major meetings this year; one in Dublin, next month, and the other in New York in September, just ahead of the UN General Assembly.

One of the keys to spreading broadband access is of course satellite technology, and the latest technologies have done much to improve satellite capacity to deliver higher broadband throughputs :

I think it is fair to say that satellite technologies are essential in bridging the new digital divide – not only in developing counties, but also in developed ones.

Indeed, all national broadband plans worldwide now include a satellite component, to reach rural and sparsely-populated areas; and satellite technologies now deliver service to over a million users in the USA, with global worldwide revenues in excess of a billion dollars a year.

Let me therefore close by asking you to think carefully about how we can continue to use and improve satellite technologies to help connect the unconnected, and make the world a better and a fairer place for all.

Thank you for your attention.