Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreed on revisions to the global treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum, both on Earth and in space, at the close of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23).
The agreement on updates to the Radio Regulations identifies new spectrum resources to support technological innovation, deepen global connectivity, increase access to and equitable use of space-based radio resources, and enhance safety at sea, in the air, and on land.
“WRC-23 puts the world on a solid path towards a more connected, sustainable, equitable and inclusive digital future for all,” says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU secretary-general. “Key regulatory achievements on spectrum for space, science and terrestrial radio services build on the momentum of ITU’s ongoing work to achieve universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation.”
A total of 151 Member States signed the WRC-23 Final Acts. The Final Acts constitute a record of the decisions taken at the conference including both the new and revised provisions of the Radio Regulations, all Appendices, and the new and revised Resolutions and ITU-R Recommendations incorporated by reference into the treaty by the conference.
“The agreements reached at WRC-23 are a testament to the unwavering spirit of cooperation and compromise among all of our members,” says Mario Maniewicz, director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “Navigating the complexities of spectrum sharing to update the Radio Regulations has helped us forge a path that provides a stable, predictable regulatory environment essential for the development of innovative radiocommunication services for all.”
Revisions to ITU’s Radio Regulations
Among the decisions, WRC-23 identified spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), which will be crucial for expanding broadband connectivity and developing IMT mobile services, also known as 4G, 5G and, in the future, 6G. That new spectrum includes the 3 300-3 400 megahertz (MHz), 3 600-3 800 MHz, 4 800-4 990 MHz and 6 425-7 125 MHz frequency bands in various countries and regions.
WRC-23 also identified the 2 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands for using high-altitude platform stations as IMT base stations (HIBS) and established regulations for their operations. This technology offers a new platform to provide mobile broadband with minimal infrastructure using the same frequencies and devices as IMT mobile networks. HIBS can contribute to bridging the digital divide in remote and rural areas and maintain connectivity during disasters.
For non-geostationary fixed-satellite service Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs), the conference identified new frequencies to deliver high-speed broadband onboard aircraft, vessels, trains, and vehicles. These satellite services are also critical following disasters where local communication infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.
Provisions were included to protect ship and aircraft mobile service stations located in international airspace and waters from other stations within national territories.
To support the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), WRC-23 took regulatory actions including the implementation of e-navigation systems to enhance distress and safety communications at sea.
The conference provisionally recognized the BeiDou Satellite Messaging Service System for GMDSS use, subject to successful completion of coordination with the existing networks and elimination of interference.
The conference, which took place in Dubai from 20 November to 15 December, was hosted by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) of the UAE.
“Across the globe, numerous countries, institutions, and companies eagerly anticipate the outcomes of this conference,” says Al Ramsi, chair of WRC-23 and deputy director-general for the Telecommunication Sector of TDRA. “We have emerged from this conference with significant results that contribute to the advancement of numerous radio services, serving the interests of countries, societies, and humanity at large.”
Overall, WRC-23 approved 43 new resolutions, revised 56 existing ones, and suppressed 33 resolutions. Other key WRC-23 outcomes include:
- Allocation of additional frequencies for passive Earth exploration satellite services to enable advanced ice cloud measurements for better weather forecasting and climate monitoring.
- Allocation of new frequencies to the aviation industry for aeronautical mobile satellite services (117.975-137 MHz). The new service will enhance bi-directional communication via non-GSO satellite systems for pilots and air traffic controllers everywhere, especially over oceanic and remote areas.
- Allocation of the bands 15.41-15.7 GHz and 22-22.2 GHz in Radio Regulations Region 1 and some Region 3 countries to the aeronautical mobile service for non-safety aeronautical applications. This will enable aircraft, helicopters, and drones to carry sophisticated aeronautical digital equipment for purposes such as surveillance, monitoring, mapping, and filming, and have the capacity to transfer large data from these applications using wideband radio links.
- Adoption of regulatory actions for the provision of inter-satellite links. This will allow data to be made available in near-real time, enhancing the availability and value of instrument data for low-latency applications such as weather forecasting and disaster risk reduction.
- Endorsement of the decision by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) to adopt Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) as the de facto time standard by 2035, with the possibility to extend the deadline to 2040 in cases where existing equipment cannot be replaced earlier.
- Recognition of the importance of space weather observation in a new Resolution and a new Article in the Radio Regulations to recognize the operation of space weather sensors as part of the meteorological aid service to observe space weather phenomena including solar flares, solar radiation and geomagnetic storms which can interfere with radiocommunication services including satellites, mobile phone services and navigation systems.
- Approval of a recommendation by the Radio Regulations Board to allow 41 countries to acquire new and usable orbital resources for satellite broadcasting. The countries were unable to use their assigned orbital slots in recent years due to factors such as lack of coordination and interference from other satellite networks. The decision aims to enable countries to implement subregional satellite systems.
To prepare for future world radiocommunication conferences, the WRC-23 also adopted several resolutions that mandate the ITU Radiocommunication Sector Study Groups to undertake studies on specified topics that include:
- Possible new or modified space research service (space-to-space) allocations for future development of communications on the lunar surface, and between lunar orbit and the lunar surface.
- The development of regulatory measures to limit the unauthorized operations of non-geostationary-satellite orbit (non-GSO) earth stations in the fixed-satellite service (FSS) and mobile-satellite service (MSS).
- Technical and regulatory measures for fixed satellite systems (FSS) while taking into account the specific needs of developing countries including the need for equitable access to the relevant frequency bands.
- Technical and regulatory provisions necessary to protect radio astronomy operating in specific Radio Quiet Zones from radio-frequency interference caused by systems in the non-geostationary-satellite orbit.
- Possible new allocations to the mobile-satellite service for direct connectivity between space stations and mobile user equipment to complement terrestrial mobile network coverage.
- Spectrum needs and appropriate protection criteria for space weather sensors.
- Potential new frequency allocations and regulatory actions for future development of low-data-rate non-geostationary mobile-satellite systems (small satellites).
- Identification of measures to facilitate the operation of earth stations on board unmanned aircraft, including identification of suitable frequency bands to decide on the appropriate course of action to be taken in 2031 (WRC-31).
WRC-23 also approved the agenda items for the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-27) and the provisional agenda for WRC-31.