Results of the World Radiocommunication Conference (by François Rancy, Chairman, WRC-07)

The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07) ended on 16th November 2007 after four weeks of difficult discussions.  Its attendance was unprecedented, exceeding 2600 delegates from 164 countries, and more than 3000 proposals for modifications to the ITU Radio Regulations were considered. Its decisions, taken in full consensus, illustrate the continued ability of the ITU to adjust international regulations to technology and market changes in a timely manner. They will influence the development of radiocommunications for several decades.


International Mobile Services (IMT)

The main and most difficult issue related to new allocations and identifications of spectrum for IMT, to ensure that mobile services, which have become part of everyday life in all countries, can continue to grow in the future to adjust to higher transmission rates. In this context, going to frequencies higher than 2G (900 MHz) or 3G (2 GHz) opens wider spectrum resources but also translates into higher costs, since many more base stations are required in these bands. Two types of candidate bands were therefore sought for:

  • At higher frequencies to face growth in densely populated areas

  • At lower frequencies to provide, at a reasonable cost, high speed mobile services everywhere, in particular in less densely populated areas, thus reducing the digital divide.

Access to spectrum by all countries for both of these requirements was one of the main objectives of this conference. However, mobile services such as IMT use spectrum extensively, in a way which is hardly compatible with any other use in the same geographic area. In each of the four frequency bands which emerged as potential candidates, current uses in many countries  cover key applications, with no or little potential to migrate to other bands. Selecting only one or even two or three of these bands therefore represented, for a very large number of countries, a significant threat to interests as fundamental as terrestrial television broadcasting, defense applications or lifeline fixed-satellite services.

Given this situation, the conference decided to identify for IMT and to allocate to the mobile service, where it was not already the case, all or part of the four frequency bands. From this set, each administration will be able to make a selection to accommodate its requirements for mobile services with minimum effect on other key services. The balance with these services was achieved by adopting technical and regulatory means to protect them and by limiting the amount of spectrum identified for IMT:

·          790-862 MHz in Regions 1 and 3 and 698-806 MHz in Region 2 and some countries in Region 3. In addition, further compatibility studies will be carried out and considered by WRC-11 to ensure full protection of affected services in Region 1 and 3.

·          3.4-3.6 GHz in more than 80 countries. Protection of the fixed-satellite service is ensured through a coordination procedure and a limitation of the power flux density at the border.

·          450-470 MHz and 2.3-2.4 GHz, worldwide.

This decision will enable manufacturers to produce IMT equipment in large quantities at attractive prices. Roaming opportunities and economies of scale will be available worldwide. IMT service may start in these bands from 2009, and at the latest from 2015, subject to agreement between the administrations concerned.

A view from the floor during the first plenary session of WRC-07
Source: ITU/J.M. Ferré

Aeronautical issues — WRC-07 decided new allocations to the aeronautical mobile service in the bands 112-117.975 MHz, 960-1164 MHz and 5091-5150 MHz in order to respond to the increasing need caused by the growth of air traffic and to allow emerging applications such as airport surface communications. In addition, several frequency bands were earmarked for aeronautical telemetry for aircraft flight testing: 5091-5150 MHz on a worldwide basis, and 5150-5250 MHz, 4400-4940 MHz and 5925-5700 MHz on a Regional or national basis. This fully satisfied the aircraft industry requirements.

Scientific issues – Several items addressed the spectrum requirements of earth exploration-satellite services, meteorological satellite service and radioastronomy. Although only a few countries operate scientific and meteorological satellites, these provide key services which serve the whole world. They are used to monitor the Earth’s resources as well as for the prediction and monitoring of natural disasters and the management of emergency situations, for meteorology and prediction of climate changes. WRC-07 allocated new spectrum for these services in the 9 GHz range and in the 18 GHz range. It also adopted provisions enabling a better protection of the existing allocations to scientific services against interference from active services in the same or adjacent bands. This followed long discussions to establish the balance between the protection requirement of scientific services and the need to avoid undue constraints on active services.

Sharing of the band 2500-2690 MHz – This band is mainly used worldwide for terrestrial services and was identified by WRC-2000 for IMT-2000. However, many satellite services are also allocated in all or part of the band, but generally limited to national or sub-regional systems. WRC-07 took several decisions to protect terrestrial services in this frequency band together with some provisions to enable the administrations wishing to continue to operate satellite systems in this frequency band to do so.

Fixed-Satellite service – WRC-07 reviewed the fixed-satellite service Plan contained in Appendix 30B of the Radio Regulations and established in 1988, which guarantees access to 2 x 800 MHz spectrum bandwidth by all countries in the 4/7/10/13 GHz bands. WRC-07 modified the procedures in order to take into account technological developments, facilitate the application of the procedures, and accommodate the requirements of many countries that have joined the ITU since 1988. 

Maritime services – WRC-07 adopted a number of changes to the Radio Regulations to streamline the provisions applicable to the maritime service. These changes also illustrate the increasing role of the global maritime distress and safety system (GMDSS).

WRC-11 Agenda

Finally, WRC-07 agreed on the provisional agenda for the next conference, WRC-11. Important decisions will relate to mobile and broadcasting services (UHF band and electronic news gathering), development of unmanned aircraft systems and aeronautical communications, new allocations for radars, use of spectrum by scientific services and new mobile satellite allocations. WRC-11 will also have to address transversal issues to improve the flexibility of the Radio regulations and to respond to the expected development of cognitive radios.

ITU flags on the Mont Blanc bridge in Geneva during WRC 07
Source: ITU/J.M. Ferré

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