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IMT and Satellite: Thorny Issues

The World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-23) opens on November 20th in Dubai. River Advisers will be there, keeping abreast of all that is going on. In conjunction with this, we are writing a series of blogs, covering Agenda Items (AI) that will impact the satellite industry. This first one looks at AIs raised by the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) industry that have the potential to be both a threat to FSS spectrum and a driver for MSS spectrum.

Spectrum as we all know is a finite resource. It therefore seems both logical and fair that if requests to change existing allocations are made, these requests are supported by evidence justifying the need for change. After all, this is the only way, to ensure that this resource is being used efficiently. The satellite industry has always backed up requests with ample explanation and justification. Unfortunately, since 2007, IMT representatives have not done so, and yet have frequently succeeded in getting the allocations requested. Compared to the size of IMT, satellite is a minnow against a whale, which makes requests from IMT for spectrum infringing on satellite usage a particular cause for concern. Without transparency as to how much spectrum is being used by IMT and why more is needed, it is very difficult if not impossible to fully grasp the reasons for additional allocation. This opacity also hampers the ITU's capacity to optimise the utilisation of this finite resource.

Two such items are on the agenda at WRC-23. Agenda Item (AI) 1.2 and AI 9.1-c. These items request changes which are broad enough to impact all fixed satellite service (FSS) allocations, by allowing parallel usage by IMT. It is important for the satellite industry that existing services are protected when new applications are being considered.

Current threat or further opportunity?

IMT and FSS often compete for spectrum resources, specifically the C-band and Ku-band frequencies. Significant portions of those bands are on the agenda for WRC-23 for possible identification for IMT, including possible additional allocations to mobile service on a primary basis.

AI 1.2 is to consider identification of the frequency bands 3 300-3 400 MHz, 3 600-3 800 MHz,

6 425-7 025 MHz, 7 025-7 125 MHz and 10.0-10.5 GHz for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT). These frequency bands are valuable to FSS and provide a wide range of essential services including broadcasting, air navigation, emergency response operations, mobile backhaul, and mission-critical VSAT communications. The proliferation of IMT services can lead to spectrum congestion and reduced availability for FSS, potentially disrupting satellite communication services.

While IMT and satellite may appear to be in competition, there is one area where they can also complement each other. MSS services are essential in remote areas or for emergency and disaster response where terrestrial networks may be limited or unavailable.

Some operators are exploring hybrid solutions that combine terrestrial and MSS capabilities to provide seamless global connectivity. This approach enhances user experience by switching between terrestrial and satellite networks as needed, benefiting from the best of both worlds and ensuring continuous connectivity regardless of location.

IMT can certainly be a threat to FSS by competing for spectrum and potentially causing interference. On the other hand, IMT can be a catalyst for further MSS demand in an era where complementary services, hybrid solutions, and IoT applications flourish.

A more substantial threat on the horizon

AI 9.1-c is to study the use of IMT systems for fixed wireless broadband in the frequency bands allocated to fixed services on a primary basis, in accordance with Resolution 175 (WRC-19). The key word is “study.” In theory this AI is just a study, the outcome of which may result in this issue being placed as a potential agenda item for WRC-27.

This could potentially open a Pandora’s box. Not only do fixed services allocations overlap with FSS allocations, but allowing a mobile technology to provide fixed services in these bands is only the tip of the iceberg. Sooner or later, they could also be employed to provide mobile services, exacerbating the pressure and the threat on FSS.

This looks set to be a contentious issue at WRC-23 and one that satellite industry representatives will be following closely.


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