From 5G to climate action: Here’s why the World Radiocommunication Conference is so important

04 Oktober 2019 - Artikel

By Joanne Wilson, Deputy Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau

*The following is adapted from a briefing I gave to United Nations Ambassadors in New York today.

Radiocommunications are everywhere.

Nearly every sector of the economy relies upon the opportunity to effectively utilize the radio spectrum – a limited, shared natural resource – in some way.

Besides the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, land-based transportation, public safety, maritime and air travel, weather forecasting, news gathering and dissemination, education, space exploration and research, banking, entertainment all use one or more radiocommunication services.

Indeed, radiocommunications enable mobile phone calls, broadcast television programmes, satellite navigation, online maps, and much more.

They also play a crucial role in monitoring and transmitting change with regards to ocean temperature, vegetation patterns, water levels in aquifers and greenhouse gases – helping us predict famines, the path of a hurricane, or how the global climate is changing.

Radiocommunication technologies are more and more diverse and pervasive, but they all rely on the same core elements: the availability of radio frequencies for terrestrial-based systems and space-based systems, which also includes their associated orbits, that can be operated free from harmful interference.

The Radio Regulations

To ensure this availability, the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of radio-frequencies and associated satellite orbits allocate specific frequencies for various services and contain detailed technical provisions and regulatory procedures to ensure the rational, equitable, efficient use of frequency and orbit resources.

The ITU has been maintaining this treaty for over 112 years.

This October, over 3,000 delegates from most of ITU’s 193 Member States will gather in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19). It lasts from 28 October to 22 November 2019.

The WRC reviews and revises, if necessary, the texts of the Radio Regulations (RR).

The development of international regulations and standards ensure networks are compatible, interoperable, and that they operate without causing or receiving harmful interference to or from adjacent services. They also allow for more affordable services and devices due to economies of scale.

On the agenda in Egypt

Agenda items of WRC-19 include:

  • Additional spectrum for 5G (IMT-2020 in ITU terminology):
    5G is expected to connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart networked communication environments. It should transport a huge amount of data much faster, reliably connect an extremely large number of devices and process very high volumes of data with minimal delay.
    Read our 5G backgrounder to learn more >
  • High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS):
    HAPS can potentially be used to provide broadband connectivity and telecommunication services in communities, rural and remote areas that are underserved. It would do so by providing fixed broadband connectivity for end users and transmission links between the core and mobile networks (backhaul).
    Read our HAPS backgrounder to learn more >
  • Terrestrial wireless applications such as aeronautical and maritime communications:
    The Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) addresses all phases of flight under all circumstances, including time of distress. It maintains an up‐to‐date record of each aircraft’s position and, in case of a crash, forced landing or ditching, the locations of survivors, the aircraft and recoverable flight data recorders. The GADSS was modeled after the long-standing Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) that has been supporting safety at sea for decades. The GMDSS is being upgraded to broadcast even more maritime safety information, including navigation and meteorological warnings, piracy warnings, meteorological forecasts, vessels traffic information, ice and icebergs cartography, etc.
    Read our maritime backgrounder to learn more >
  • Radio local area networks (RLANs):
    RLANs (including WiFi) have been widely used for internet connectivity, data delivery and offloading mobile traffic to reduce the amount of data carried on cellular networks.
  • Intelligent transport systems (ITS) and Railway wireless technologies:
    ITS are gradually changing the shape of road transport, making cars smarter, driving more convenient and roads safer. ITS does so by entering in various areas of transportation networks, such as vehicle navigation, traffic control, road signs and automatic license plate recognition, etc.
  • Satellite systems such as non-geostationary satellite orbits (nonGSO) FSS, and Earth stations in motion (ESIM):
    Non-GSO fixed-satellite service (FSS) constellations improve the quality, increase the capacity and reduce the costs of satellite services, enabling satellite operators to bring to market innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide and providing broadband for all.

Read our ESIM backgrounder and our non-GSO backgrounder >

Building consensus

At the WRC-19, global stakeholders will work towards reviewing the regulatory framework and building consensus on additional spectrum allocation/identification for these services, if necessary.

Many of the agenda items reflect developments and innovations that have great potential to provide coverage for people the hard-to-reach rural and remote areas at an affordable price.

We are confident that a successful WRC-19 will help pave the way for all people, everywhere to benefit from these technologies and participate fully in the digital economy.

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October 2021