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WRC-15 spectrum decisions reach consensus

Posted: 22 Dec 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ITU? satellite communication? wireless? mobile broadband? 5G?

During the recent World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15), the delegates showed a surprisingly high level of agreement towards plans surrounding the 700MHz and sub-700MHz bands. Nonetheless, as expected from the huge number of attendees that seek the most practical method to allocate scant spectrum globally for different wireless communications networks and applications, compromise has to be anticipated.

Such was the case at the WRC-15 that convened in Geneva November 2-27 under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations' specialised agency for information and communication technologies. Held every four years, WRC-15 inevitably had to work to a broad agenda, much of which was already decided at the conclusion of the last outing.

Not everyone got their way, with some difficult balancing acts being played out trying to juggle needs and concerns of players in hugely important and growing areas such as mobile broadband, satellite communications, broadcasting, emergency communications and disaster relief and road safety.

As predicted in a previous post there was lively interest in and a surprisingly high level of agreement in deliberations around the fate of the 700MHz and sub-700MHz bands.

"The outcome was as satisfactory as we could have expected as regards more spectrum for mobile broadband, while keeping broadcasters satisfied. There was a lot of pressure on them not to yield," said Mike Goddard, International Spectrum Policy Adviser for consultancy Real Wireless.

Goddard was for long CEO of the UK's Radio Communications Agency and also led the UK delegation to the WRC between 1987 and 2007. "As usual, a lot of decisions were left to the last moment, with delegations reluctant to give way on some key decisions, and it got a bit crazy in the end, but overall, I would say it was a successful WRC, with very important conclusions and a clear and ambitious view of the topics we need to address at WRC 2019," said Goddard.

In addition to confirming the use of the 700MHz band (technically 694MHz to 790MHz) for mobile broadband services in ITU Region 1, which includes Europe, Africa, the Middle east and Central Asia, delegates also agreed to harmonise 200MHz of the C-band (3.4GHz to 3.6GHz) to improve capacity in urban areas and used in small cells, and the L-band (1427MHz to 1518MHz) to improve overall coverage and better capacity.

Spectrum wars

However, despite intense lobbying from mobile broadband groups, delegates from some 150 countries decided against opening up more sub-700MHz spectrum to the sector, ensuring that UHF spectrum (470MHz to 690MHz) will remain exclusively allocated to terrestrial TV services in Region 1, for at least a decade. Delegates decided to review the use of these bands not at the next WRC, but the one planned for 2023.

Reacting to the vote, Simon Fell, the European Broadcasting Union's director of technology and innovation hinted a sigh of relief: "The worldwide community of broadcasters welcomes this important decision. So should the millions of viewers who rely on digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to watch TV. Now that we have certainty on access to spectrum, the broadcasting industry can complete the transition to fully digital TV broadcasting."

So the mobile broadband sector now has, at least in the short to medium term, three globally harmonised bands which, according to a statement from John Giusti, chief regulatory officer of the GSMA, represents "a major step forward in meeting the growing demand from citizens worldwide for mobile broadband." Such harmonisation is clearly a huge step to achieve low cost networks and devices for mobile broadband, as well as improved roaming so as to reach poorly served areas.

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