WRC-15 sees moving earth stations, bands above 6 GHz in its future

As the ITU wrapped up the month-long World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) in Geneva late last week, the leaders were asked if their process for setting international spectrum standards is too slow.

Francois Rancy, director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, replied that they need to strike a balance between new technologies and old technologies, knowing that what is new today will be old tomorrow, and to ensure existing users aren't subjected to harmful interference.

"We are actually looking much further in the future" than just a few years because investments made will last 20 to 30 years, he said. "This is why the technologies people are trying to advertise when they come to our conference are not new for us. When you hear about the use of balloons or drones … to provide broadband throughout the world, that's not new for us. That's something we have already discussed 20 years ago and that we have been discussing almost every conference since then." That, in part, is why the changes made to the regulations are actually a process of "fine-tuning" rather than making revolutionary changes, he said.

One new technology that was extensively discussed at this year's conference was an earth station in motion, whether it's an aircraft, automobile or something else, and "we have addressed the possibility of using a very large amount of spectrum which is already allocated to satellite services in the context of moving earth stations or moving platforms," he said. The potential impact of that in terms of interference to terrestrial services is devastating because if you have an aircraft transmitting signals overhead, it can affect many hundreds of kilometers of users on the ground.

The WRC-15 addressed more than 40 topics related to frequency allocation and frequency sharing for the spectrum and orbital resources. Noting the growing demand for spectrum for mobile broadband services, WRC-15 identified frequency bands in the L-band (1427-1518 MHz) and in the lower part of the C-band (3.4 -3.6 GHz), and it decided to include studies in the agenda for the next WRC in 2019 for the identification of bands above 6 GHz to address capacity demands.

Here in the U.S., CTIA has called on policy makers to execute on a new five-year plan to identify and reallocate more than 350 MHz of new spectrum for licensed mobile broadband services. Of course, wireless operators are expected to participate in next year's first-ever incentive auction, one that should provide some relief in what is often referred to as a "spectrum crunch."

Looking ahead, it's not just about meeting the demands from all those phones in every pocket and tablets in every briefcase; it's about making spectrum available for street poles and vehicles traveling on the streets, said CTIA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann. "The wireless industry wants to make sure that we are able to meet that demand, that we are able to continue to be the platform for innovation and the world leader," which is why the association is working with the administration, Congress, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the FCC and others to bring more spectrum to market.

CTIA's continued calls for more spectrum is hardly surprising -- it's sounded that horn for as long as I can remember, and consumer demand for wireless services continues to rise along with it. But with AT&T and Verizon controlling the lion's share of low-band spectrum, what about smaller carriers? "The reality is other carriers are already experiencing a low-band spectrum crunch, which negatively impacts consumers and competition throughout the industry and ultimately the economy," Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President and CEO Steven K. Berry told FierceWirelessTech in a statement.

"Consumer demand of wireless service is at an all-time high -- and only growing -- which is leading to capacity constraints for every carrier," he said. "With so many carriers 'champing at the bit' to get their hands on additional low-band spectrum and with limited spectrum available, there is no doubt a need for more spectrum and innovative alternative technologies."

He notes that the incentive auction may be the last chance for carriers to access additional low-band spectrum for years to come, and the FCC should make sure that additional spectrum, including both licensed and unlicensed versions, is available for all technologies. That's why CCA is a founding member of the Evolve Coalition with the likes of T-Mobile, Verizon and Qualcomm. "CCA members need every opportunity to compete in a spectrum-constrained market and technologies like LTE-U can provide much-needed targeted relief," he added. "It is a critical time in the wireless industry, and with limited available spectrum and increased consolidation, it is absolutely essential for the FCC to keep all options on the table to ensure competitive carriers can continue to grow, thrive and best serve their customers."

CCA also applauded the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology this week for advancing the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, which would provide incentives for federal agencies to free up additional spectrum for commercial use. That will help, but more spectrum still will be needed.

After explaining ITU's process and why it takes so long, Rancy concluded that the organization actually is moving quicker than technology – "it's anticipating on it," he said. I would add that when you're talking about more than 3,000 delegates and more than 160 countries -- with billions of industry dollars at stake -- it's just plain takes a long time to reach a consensus. CTIA also reminds us that it takes on average 13 years to reallocate spectrum for commercial wireless use after an FCC order is issued.

All of which also is to say, we are probably never going to hear the end of the term "spectrum crunch." --Monica