After almost a month’s negotiation and debate, the 30 strong Australian delegation at the recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC–15) in Geneva played a significant role in securing major outcomes for spectrum management to be integrated into domestic regulatory arrangements over the next 12 months. The delegation was led by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
‘This has been the most difficult WRC ever in terms of concluding positive and agreed outcomes,’ said Maureen Cahill, Australia’s Head of Delegation to WRC–15.
‘The benefits to Australia from the outcomes of WRC–15 are considerable, and will form the basis of revisions of the ACMA spectrum planning for the next four years,’ Ms Cahill added.
‘These outcomes are a tribute to the extensive preparation in Australia leading up to WRC–15 and the key government and industry experts participating in the Australian delegation at the conference,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman, who attended the first week of the conference.
Key outcomes include:
- An allocation of 91 MHz in the frequency range 1427–1518 MHz for globally harmonised International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT).
- Additional IMT identification for numerous Asia-Pacific countries (including Australia) in the band 698–790 MHz.
- Agreement to a new agenda item for WRC–19 to explore options for additional IMT identifications above 6 GHz in support of new 5G technologies.
- A single globally-harmonised frequency range—694–894 MHz—for Public Protection and Disaster Relief (public safety communications).
- Agreement on an allocation in the frequency range 1087.7–1092.3 MHz to support global flight tracking by satellite receivers of civilian aircraft using existing transmissions from aircraft. (The agreement is part of the ITU’s response to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014.)
- A global allocation for short-range high-resolution automotive radar in the 79 GHz frequency band.
- A new Resolution that opens the way for the development by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of worldwide standards for unmanned aircraft systems’ satellite communications in certain frequency bands, and international regulatory conditions that may be applied to these systems.
- Global spectrum allocation for wireless avionics intra-communications (WAIC) to facilitate the transition to wireless within aeroplanes.
Following the formal treaty level approval processes, the many WRC–15 outcomes directly impacting Australia will be integrated by the ACMA into domestic regulatory arrangements in preparation for the bringing into force of the latest version of the ITU Radio Regulations at the start of 2017.
The agenda for the next WRC to be held in 2019 (WRC–19) will be the focus of attention in the coming months as the ACMA and industry consider the domestic implications and associated studies required to get preparatory work underway.
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Media release 66/2015 - 17 December
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies, convened the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC–15) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 2 to 27 November 2015.
WRCs are held every three to four years to review the regulatory framework for international spectrum management and satellite coordination. This framework is contained in the treaty level Radio Regulations. WRC–15 was the largest WRC held to date, with around 3,800 registered participants representing over 160 of the ITU’s Member states and other observers.
WRC–15 considered an agenda of 36 items, some of which contained multiple issues. The large agenda is a reflection of the complexity of the global radiocommunications environment—a complexity due in part to the rapid introduction of new technologies.
Australia is a signatory to the ITU Convention, which is a treaty-level legal instrument that obliges Australia to comply with the Radio Regulations. In essence, Australian radiocommunications services must not cause interference to the services of other countries where those services operate in accordance with the Radio Regulations. Conversely, Australian services are entitled to protection against interference from other countries. The international spectrum management environment codified in the Radio Regulations also facilitate spectrum harmonisation and resulting economies of scale in equipment manufacture.
Details on all WRC–15 positions relevant to Australia is available here.
Major WRC-15 outcomes
A number of WRC agenda items were identified as being of particular interest to Australia. These items are summarised below, along with a synopsis of key conference outcomes.
Agenda item 1.1 International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT): Sought to identify spectrum that would facilitate new mobile broadband applications. The issue is frequently contentious as IMT applications often cannot share spectrum with other radiocommunication services in the same geographic and spectrum space.
Agenda item 1.1 was very contentious with negotiations and discussions continuing well into the final week of the conference. The final outcomes were that the 91 MHz in the frequency range 1427–1518 MHz was essentially globally harmonised for IMT (while Europe did not identify the range 1 452–1 492 MHz, in reality Europe already uses the band for IMT). This outcome was in line with Australian objectives. The frequency range 3 400–3 600 MHz was also significantly internationally harmonised with Regions 1 (Europe and Africa), 2 (the Americas) and a number of countries in Region 3 (Asia-Pacific) identifying the range for IMT (Australia was successfully included in the list of countries for Region 3).
Other bands, while not gaining such widespread support, were identified for use by IMT by groups of countries. These included 470-694/698 MHz, 3 300–3 400 MHz, 3 700–3 800 MHz and 4 800–4 990 MHz. In addition, the frequency range 694/698–790 MHz (the digital dividend) was significantly internationally harmonised with the Region 1 IMT identification coming into force and Australia (along with 15 other countries successfully being included in the list of countries for Region 3). As a final note, 11 of the 19 candidate bands considered resulted in no identification for IMT.
These WRC developments regarding IMT spectrum identifications are of relevance to domestic spectrum planning for mobile broadband and in the main serve to reinforce thinking already socialised in the ACMA’s recently released draft update to its mobile broadband strategy.
Agenda item 1.3 Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) communications: The purpose of this agenda item was to revise Resolution 646 on PPDR to include specific harmonised frequency arrangements for broadband PPDR communications.
The Resolution was updated to include a single globally harmonised frequency range for PPDR communications (694–894 MHz). Administrations will now be able to choose a subset of that frequency range so as to leverage the economies of scale for PPDR equipment, which will result from harmonisation. While this frequency range is not specifically earmarked for narrowband or broadband PPDR, it spans a number key sub-1 GHz IMT bands below 1 GHz, so it is expected to enhance markets for broadband PPDR equipment. A separate suite of regionally-harmonised ranges was also agreed.
The revised Resolution also now specifies that individual country PPDR frequency arrangements will be captured in an ITU-R Recommendation. That recommendation will effectively act as a repository for specific information on the PPDR frequency arrangements used by different countries for both narrowband and broadband PPDR communications, thereby providing further scope for economies of scale as well as improved cross-border cooperation in times of emergency.
The combination of these measures will help improve equipment markets, particularly for broadband PPDR-grade (typically 4G-based) technologies, while retaining flexibility for administrations to choose frequencies/delivery models to suit their individual needs when establishing broadband PPDR capabilities. These outcomes were consistent with Australia’s preferred method to satisfy this agenda item.
Agenda item 1.5 Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS): Sought to make provision in the Radio Regulations for the use of the fixed-satellite service (FSS) for the safe integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems into airspace shared with conventional air traffic. The Department of Defence, Airservices Australia and developing commercial interests had significant interest in this item.
This was a difficult political issue (concerns in some regions about drone aircraft) and a difficult technical issue, both in the lead-up to and at the conference. The final outcome was a complicated technical Resolution that opens the way for the development by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of worldwide standards for unmanned aircraft systems satellite communications in certain frequency bands, and the identification of regulatory conditions that may be applied to such systems internationally.
Agenda item 1.14 Future of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC): This considered the possible cessation of the global practise of the occasional insertion of a leap second to UTC to maintain accurate time. The matter has implications beyond radiocommunications across many industry interests.
WRC-15 did not resolve issues relating to the insertion of a leap second into UTC. Instead, WRC–15 agreed to transfer ownership of the issue to another international body with a clearer role in time-related matters. In effect, this will defer resolution of the UTC issue for a number of years. While this outcome did not see the removal of the ‘leap second’ (as was the preferred Australian position), this outcome is considered a pragmatic way forward.
Agenda item 10 New agenda items for the next conference: Prior to the conference, there was widespread interest in establishing a new agenda item at WRC–19 to consider identification of spectrum for IMT with a focus on bands above 6 GHz. This is related to the WRC–15 agenda item 1.1 on IMT.
WRC–15 agreed on an agenda for WRC–19 that included an item to consider IMT identification in higher frequency ranges. This future agenda item has a number of specific ranges to study for a possible future IMT identification and hence is consistent with the Australian objective of a focused future agenda item on IMT matters.
Global Flight Tracking for civil aviation: This was an issue added to the WRC–15 agenda late in the WRC cycle. It sought to improve the tracking of aircraft anywhere in the world and had considerable profile due to loss of various commercial aircraft in recent years.
Agreement was reached on an allocation in the frequency range 1087.7–1092.3 MHz to support global flight tracking of civilian aircraft using existing transmissions from aircraft by satellite receivers. This system is known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS-B). This followed the ICAO encouraging the ITU to take urgent action to provide the necessary spectrum allocation to support emerging aviation needs.
The outcome was entirely consistent with Australia’s position to WRC–15. Australia took a leading role within the region, and indeed internationally, to ensure that an allocation was successful, but also to ensure that existing use of the band was not compromised.
Domestic implications from WRC-15
As usual, changes to the international Radio Regulations will have some flow-on impact to domestic spectrum management arrangements, in particular the next update to the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan. WRC–15 outcomes also provide ‘market’ signals, in terms of the evolving use of the spectrum in various bands and hence will also influence interest in various bands for different applications, in particular mobile broadband by way of IMT identifications. These factors will be considered as part of the ACMA’s ongoing ‘environmental’ awareness of spectrum management trends.
Issues for WRC–19
Agenda items for WRC–19 are now largely fixed, excluding very unusual circumstances such as when Global Flight Tracking for Civil Aviation was added to WRC–15 agenda. The nature of any issues or difficulties for Australian spectrum users for the various agenda items will become clearer over the next 12 months or so, as methods for addressing the items begin to be developed by the various international and national study groups.