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WRC-23: Key Issues for the Satellite Industry

Spectrum is a finite resource, and the battle between players wanting more of it, and those wanting to protect their allocations, will again play out at the upcoming World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in Dubai. Following many preparatory meetings and preliminary studies, interested parties from around the globe meet every four years with the primary aim to hold onto or increase their spectrum allocations.

As in previous years, for the satellite industry many of the issues will center around trying to defend and hold onto current spectrum allocations. WRC-23 should not be portrayed as a fist fight between International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and Satellite however! There are several Agenda items (AIs) that only concern the satellite industry namely: seeking to clarify existing regulations, expand current usage and ensure a level playing field for all.

A comprehensive agenda

The issues surrounding WRC-23 are too varied and complex to be discussed in a short blog. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of some of the key issues impacting our industry. This year is no exception and the items directly affecting satellite broadly fall into four broad classes: protecting existing satellite bands, introducing new applications in existing satellite bands, getting new spectrum for satellite and improving satellite procedures.

Taking them in that order, AIs 1.2, 1.3 and 9.1(c) may potentially encroach on existing satellite allocations. AI 1.2 aims to identify additional frequency bands for IMT services, in the 3/4/6/10 GHz allocations. In particular, the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are interested in 3600-3800 MHz in Region 2, 6425-7025 MHz in Region 1 and 7025-7125 MHz globally. These fall in C-band, which is still heavily used by the Fixed Satellilte Service (FSS) operators and threaten current and future satellite deployments.

Agenda item 1.3 is focused on harmonizing the mobile allocations in the 3600-3800 MHz range. Currently, the frequency band 3600-3800 MHz is allocated to mobile service on a primary basis in Regions 2 and 3 and AI 1.3 is looking at upgrading the mobile allocation in Region 1 from secondary to primary status. While it's important to acknowledge the advantages of harmonization, it's essential to bear in mind that this frequency band is extensively utilized by satellite services, playing a pivotal role in providing vital communications across the ‘3 Regions’.

AI 9.1(c) relates to the use of frequency bands already allocated for fixed services on a primary basis, for fixed wireless broadband by the IMT industry. Given that most of the Fixed Services allocations overlap with Fixed Satellite Services allocations, the potential utilization by the IMT industry of these bands could have adverse implications for the entire satellite industry. However, Agenda item 9.1(c), as the other Agenda Items 9.1, is in theory simply a mandate to conduct studies on a specific topic, and report back to the next WRC.

Enhancing the old, embracing the new

Unlike the previous Agenda Items, AI 1.15 and 1.16 both focus on introducing new applications into existing satellite bands to the benefit of the industry. AI 1.15 seeks to get regulatory approval to allow aero and maritime Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs) to use Ku-band uplink frequencies 12.75-13.25 GHz to communicate with geostationary satellites (GSOs). WRC-19 has already approved the use of the Ka-band for such services from GSO and AI 1.16 is now seeking to extend that use to NGSOs.

AI 1.19 seeks additional spectrum for FSS in Ka-band (17.3-17.7 GHz) in Region 2. If passed this would open up an additional 400 MHz of Ka-band for the industry.

AI 7 Topic A and B both concern improving satellite procedures. Topic A seeks to address tolerance limits for the altitude and inclination of non-GSO satellites (NGSOs) to determine compliance with the notified orbital characteristics of the associated satellite network or system. The current implicit rule is that a tolerance of 10% applies. If the actual parameters are beyond this tolerance, the filing will need to be updated which could be quite prejudicial for filings subject to coordination and put them at risk of losing their priority date. This need for clarification has mainly arisen from the number of rideshare launches now occurring, where satellites are injected at an average altitude that satisfies everyone but does not necessarily comply with the notified characteristics stated in the filing.

Topic B relates to the NGSO bringing a post-milestone procedure into use. The milestone-based approach decided by WRC-19 means that an operator must have a certain number of its satellites launched and operational by specified dates. What is currently lacking is any requirement to continue to operate a specified number of satellites. If any satellites are retired, meaning that a recorded frequency assignment is not in accordance with the notified characteristics, an operator may be asked to reduce the number of satellites specified in the original filing, so as to reflect the actual number of satellites deployed. This is not something that any operator would want to happen, so Topic B seeks to establish a post-milestone procedure that enables operators to temporarily continue operating with fewer satellites than originally notified.

As I said, the issues are varied, complex and very detailed. The report from the last Conference Preparatory Meeting is over 1,000 pages long, and to give an example, 99 of these are devoted to AI 1.15 alone. Frequency allocations and spectrum advocacy are amongst the topics we at River Advisers deal with every day, so if you would like to know more about the issues impacting satellite at WRC-23, please get in touch.

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