Maintaining and expanding spectrum for satellite communications

*This is an article by a coalition of the world’s satellite industry associations: ABRASAT, APSCC, AVIA, CA, ESOA, GVF and SIA. It was originally published in the recent ITU News Magazine edition “Managing spectrum for evolving technologies.” Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

At the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC‑19), ITU and its Member States will take decisions that will have an impact on many challenges and opportunities facing today’s telecommunication regulators. These include enabling next-generation connectivity, connecting the unconnected 49% of the world, and ensuring increasingly resilient telecommunication networks for emergency situations. The satellite communication industry is directly relevant to each one.

Satellite communications and 5G

The 5G network is envisioned as an access network-agnostic architecture that includes new cellular wireless technologies, fixed wireless networks, Wi-Fi and satellite networks. Each technology is critical to serve many different use cases.

WRC‑19 decisions must ensure that satellite communications can meet the demands of the communities and customers they serve, by maintaining and expanding access to harmonized spectrum resources.

Harnessing the capabilities of satellite technology maximizes the reach and capabilities of this network of networks. Doing so also maximizes the ability of the 5G ecosystem to solve bigger problems, like extending high-speed access to the next billion people, improving network resiliency, and enabling ubiquitous connectivity in the air, across the seas, and around the globe.

By providing consumers broadband access of up to 100 Mbps and contributing to the 5G standards process through 3GPP, communication satellites are key to a world that promises inclusive, economic growth based on next-generation connectivity and 5G.

Related: Read the latest ITU News Magazine here

Business plans for important verticals may not be feasible without the wide area coverage, reliability and resilience offered by satellite. Their role is already recognized by the European Commission and governments including the United States as well as the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), 3GPP and most recently, ITU itself.

Satellite communications and connecting the unconnected

Satellite communications already provide affordable connectivity to countless otherwise underserved or unconnected customers around the world. Their continued deployment will help prevent the digital divide from becoming a chasm: a real risk as terrestrial-only 5G networks are planned mainly for parts of densely-populated areas.

Satellites also enable broadband connectivity to critical industries such as oil and gas, mining as well as to hundreds of millions of devices connected each year on-board mobile platforms such as automobiles, planes, trains and ships. Connections to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), for the Internet-of-Things (IoT), driverless cars and buses are also soon to come.

RELATED: WRC‑19: Enabling global radiocommunications for a better tomorrow

Satellite communications and disasters

The ubiquity and resilience of satellite networks make them critical to the increasing number of disasters (man-made or natural) happening in today’s world. These strengths underpin the Crisis Connectivity Charter signed by the sat‑ ellite industry in 2015 with the United Nations’ (UN’s) Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC). Most recently, when Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique and surrounding countries in Africa, the satellite communication industry quickly provided affordable capacity and equipment to disaster responders.

ITU plays a critical role here too by rapidly deploying satellite solutions and ensuring regu‑ latory barriers do not prevent deployment. This is why ITU has also decided to sign the Crisis Connectivity Charter with the satellite industry and the UN, etc.

World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 — the IMT challenge

Spectrum allocations are the critical issue for both the satellite industry and the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) industry at WRC‑19. Without adequate spectrum, the satellite communication industry will neither be able to maintain and grow its 5G services, connect the unconnected, nor will it be able to provide the degree of support needed in an increasingly vulnerable world.

ITU has long recognized IMT as warranting identified spectrum for its use (ITU’s Study Group 5 Working Party 5D). The challenge lies in identifying spectrum for IMT, without IMT’s use of the frequency bands impairing the growth and development of other radio services.

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

To enrich one industry at the expense of the other, would be to the detriment of the industry lacking sufficient spectrum, along with the governments, businesses and consumers that depend on that industry’s services.

At WRC‑19, the challenge will be to identify spectrum for IMT while also ensuring continued access to spectrum to enable the continuity and growth of vital services provided by other technologies, including satellite.

WRC‑19 agenda item 1.13 — calling for spectrum for IMT

WRC‑19 agenda item 1.13 will be crucial. It calls on the conference to identify more spectrum for IMT. This consideration must assess:

  • the spectrum already available for IMT;
  • the spectrum actually utilized by IMT;
  • the need to protect existing services and to allow them to continue to develop and evolve in the spectrum they already use;
  • whether identifying spectrum for IMT would impose any additional regulatory or technical constraints on services to which a given band is currently allocated on a primary basis. (Resolution 238 (WRC‑15) suggests that IMT should not displace other services);
  • the ability of satellite communications to provide the valuable services that only they can provide;
  • and the investments of the satellite industry and its customers in developing and deploying powerful new technologies which utilize spectrum already allocated to satellite communications but now being sought by IMT.

The following facts are directly relevant:

  • Agenda item 1.13 is considering a staggering 33 GHz of spectrum for IMT between 24.25 GHz and 86 GHz;
  • A recent study conducted by LS Telcom provides valuable data on whether the IMT industry needs more spectrum than already allocated.
    • Typically, only half of the spectrum harmonized for use in a particular region has been licensed to mobile operators.
    • There is upwards of 300 MHz (and in some countries as much as 700 MHz) spectrum that is yet to be licensed for mobile services, from within bands that are already identified and harmonized.
    • Progress towards licensing the 700 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2600 MHz bands is relatively slow, and licensing of the 1400 MHz and 3300 MHz bands which were identified at WRC‑15 has hardly begun. Together, these bands comprise up to 570 MHz of mobile spectrum.
    • Compared to the ITU’s estimations of IMT spectrum demand in 2020, the amount of spectrum licensed is roughly a third of that forecast.
    • Proposed IMT spectrum uses are not compatible with many existing satellite services.

Spectrum below 24.25 GHz is available for IMT.

Administrations can re-farm existing wireless spectrum to maximize next-generation wireless spectrum availability.

Additional spectrum can be identified for IMT by taking decisions at WRC‑19 that:

  • promote sector competition between IMT and other sectors;
  • advance inclusive connectivity to reach the 49% unconnected, including directly via satellite;
  • encourage the development of 5G as a “network of networks” with all sectors of the communication industry — including the satellite industry;
  • prioritize resilient telecommunication networks in response to disasters, especially via satellite;
  • avoid allocating spectrum to IMT beyond what is demonstrated as truly being needed;
  • avoid disrupting or constraining the evolution of existing satellite services with the introduction of IMT.

Important guarantees at WRC‑19

WRC‑19 decisions must ensure that satellite communications can meet the demands of the communities and customers they serve, by maintaining and expanding access to harmonized spectrum resources. This includes the Ku-band, Ka-band, Q/V-band, E-band, and the C-band in which IMT is seeking identifications at WRC‑19, and in national consultations.

Harmonized spectrum in these bands is critical for the provision of communication services via satellite — including the expanding mobile and broadband connectivity needs that are uniquely met by satellites.

The satellite industry will propose that the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2023 (WRC‑23) consider further changes to help achieve these objectives by taking advantage of the unique and increasing advantages of satellite communications.

Note: AT&T is a member of the SIA in the United States and does not support all of the views expressed in this document.

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