Conference Outcomes

WRC 2023 Conference
The 2023 World Radiocommunications Conference held in Dubai in late 2023 concluded with important new agreements regarding fifth-generation wireless communications frequencies and low earth orbit satellites.

The World Radiocommunications Conference concluded on 15th December 2023. What decisions did the meeting take which may impact military users of the radio spectrum?

Organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the 2023 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The ITU, headquartered in Geneva, western Switzerland, is the United Nations body managing the radio segment of the electromagnetic spectrum. The WRC meets every three-to-four years. In the ITU’s own words, the conference reviews and, if necessary, revises the Radio Regulations which govern how nations access and use the radio spectrum. The regulations cover all uses and users of the spectrum across a waveband of nine kilohertz to 300 gigahertz/GHz.

The WRC is guided by an agenda set by the ITU Council. “WRC deliberations are based on proposals submitted by the ITU member states,” the union told Armada via a written statement. The council comprises 48 of the ITU’s 193 member states and governs the union. During the conference the WRC “considers … proposals and (negotiates) toward reaching agreements on whether and how to modify the Radio Regulations to achieve the objectives established for each item on its agenda.” Any modifications to the regulations must be approved by the conference’s Plenary Session in the First and Second Readings. Assuming approval, these modifications are then included in the conference’s Final Acts.

A regular outcome of the WRC is the allocation of new wavebands, or alterations of existing ones, to ensure the radio spectrum can be shared fairly and safely by all those who need it: “One of the basic objectives of any world radio communication conference is to protect the existing services when making allocations to new applications,” said the ITU. A key aspect of this objective is to ensure that new services depending on the spectrum, and existing users, suffer no interference.

To minimise and eliminate interference the ITU embarks on a three-year study before each WRC “during which all scenarios of possible interference between new services and incumbent ones are analysed and technical and regulatory measures to protect the existing applications are developed.” Protective measures are then discussed and approved at the WRC by the ITU delegations as discussed above.

Next Generations

One area of global concern is the increased uptake of wireless communications. A report by 5G Americas said that global fifth-generation (5G) wireless connections were forecast to reach 1.9 billion by late 2023. These connections will increase to 5.9 billion by the end of 2027. 5G Americas is a US-based advocacy organisation focusing on fifth-generation wireless communications. Thales notes that 5G networks could offer data speeds of ten gigabits-per-second, up to 100 times faster than current 4G protocols.

The number of connections and data speeds heralded by 5G will tax the spectrum and are resulting in demands for frequencies and bandwidth. Some of the frequencies allocated to 5G are in the same neighbourhood as the S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) waveband. Nonetheless, the ITU said the 2.5GHz to 2.690GHz 5G waveband “does not overlap” with the 2.3GHz to 2.5GHz S-band segment.

One emerging technology which the 2023 conference adopted regulations for is the deployment of high-altitude cellular base stations to equip Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Placing a 5G base station on a LEO spacecraft could help provide 5G coverage over areas where none is currently available: “The identification for high altitude platform stations used as (5G cellular base stations) in the two gigahertz range” was made by the 2023 conference the ITU’s statement continued. This two gigahertz range includes several sub-bands, notably 1.710GHz to 1.980GHz, 2.010GHz to 2.025GHz and 2.110GHz to 2.170GHz. There is a frequency offset of 130 megahertz between the 2.170GHz 5G sub-band and the lowest S-band radar frequency “which is sufficient for ensuring compatibility.”

SATCOM

Satellite Communications (SATCOM) was another area which fell under the WRC’s scrutiny. A new waveband of 117.975MHz to 137MHz was allocated by the conference. These frequencies provide SATCOM complementary to aeronautical Very High Frequency (VHF; three megahertz to 30MHz) links. Bands of 17.7GHz to 18.6GHz, 18.8GHz to 19.3GHz, 19.7GHz to 20.2 GHz, 27.5GHz to 29.1GHz and 29.5GHz to 30GHz have been allocated for SATCOM stations “in motion onboard ships or planes.”

Plans are already afoot for the next WRC which takes place in 2027 although the venue is yet to be confirmed. Expect further discussion and debate regarding radio spectrum allocation. The imperative to balance the needs of global civilian, commercial, military and scientific users will make the next congress similarly busy.

by Dr. Thomas Withington