ECC Newsletter December 2019

WRC-19: The outcomes

With everything from broadband communications to scientific use of spectrum discussed at the recent ITU World Radiocommunication Conference, there were many positive outcomes for CEPT, write Doriana Guiducci and Peter Faris

The ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, over four weeks from 28 October to 22 November 2019. The Conference was attended by over 3400 delegates from 164 ITU member states and observer organisations. Some 780 delegates from 46 CEPT administrations participated. The WRC is held every four years and makes key decisions on changes to the ITU Radio Regulations to determine frequency usage for the future. The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), led by the ECC’s Conference Preparatory Group (CPG), worked tirelessly during the intervening period since WRC-15 to prepare technical, operational and regulatory studies on all subjects on the WRC-19 agenda.

Here is a summary of the outcome of key issues at the Conference.

Broadband communications – 5G and Wi-Fi

The global harmonisation of suitable spectrum for 5G (referred to as IMT-2020 in ITU terminology) was one of the most high-profile topics under discussion at WRC-19. Discussion focussed on the bands 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 and 66-71 GHz, encompassing all the CEPT priority bands under this agenda item. After intensive negotiations, conditions for the use of these bands were agreed, including emission limits for the protection of passive services in adjacent bands.

A particularly contentious issue was the emission limits in the band 23.6-24 GHz used for weather forecasting applications. Different regional groups presented widely varying views on the necessary limits to provide adequate protection for the scientific services without putting undue constraints on 5G equipment.

A compromise solution was ultimately agreed based on a two-step approach, where limits of -33 dBW/200 MHz will apply until September 2027. At that point a more stringent limit of -39 dBW/200 MHz will be applicable. The idea behind this was that a more relaxed limit during the initial stages of 5G network deployment should not cause significant interference due to the low number of deployed base stations. As deployment density increases it will be necessary to apply the more stringent limit to reduce the impact of interference. ECC Decision (18)06, approved in 2018, already defined the harmonisation conditions in Europe with a limit of -42 dBW/200 MHz. This value is also reflected in EU legislation.

The bands 45.5-47 GHz and 47.2-48.2 GHz were also identified for 5G usage in certain countries, mainly outside Europe. The existing identification of the band 4800-4990 MHz for IMT applications was extended to some additional countries, while maintaining the existing conditions for protection of other services in the band.

The Conference also discussed the conditions for use of frequency bands in 5 GHz for Radio Local Area Networks (RLAN) including Wi-Fi. It was agreed that the existing global conditions in the 5150-5250 MHz band would be relaxed to allow indoor usage in trains and cars, as well as outdoor usage with certain limitations. It was also agreed that the band 5725-5850 MHz would be extended for use in certain countries outside of Europe.

The 31.0-31.3 GHz and 38-39.5 GHz frequency bands were identified for use by high-altitude platform stations on a global basis. This technology allows aircraft flying at high altitudes – such as drones and airships – to provide broadband connectivity and backhaul links, particularly in remote areas. In addition to the newly identified frequency bands, the existing regulations in the 47.2-47.5 GHz and 47.9-48.2 GHz bands were updated with some new provisions, and some other frequency bands were identified on a regional basis outside CEPT.

Satellite communications

WRC-19 agreed new rules to increase global access to connectivity and broadband communications through new satellite technologies.

The regulatory procedures for non-geostationary satellite (NGSO) constellations were revised, introducing a milestone approach to deploy NGSO constellations, which may count thousands of satellites, in several frequency bands. According to the new rules, 'mega-constellations' will need to deploy 10% of their constellation within two years of the end of the current regulatory period, 50% within five years, and complete the deployment within seven years. This is close to the CEPT proposal for a second milestone of 30% after four years. Transitional measures with an exemption to meet the first milestone were agreed for satellite systems for which the end of the seven-year regulatory period is before 28 November 2022.

The agreed compromise strikes a balance between the prevention of spectrum warehousing, the proper functioning of coordination mechanisms, and the operational requirements related to the deployment of large NGSO constellations.

NGSO systems will also benefit from new rules on the use of bands in the 37.5-51.4 GHz range, while avoiding interference towards geostationary (GSO) networks and earth exploration-satellite service (EESS). It was agreed to allow acceptable degradation due to aggregate interference to GSO systems – in terms of allowance for carrier-to-noise values and average reduction of throughput. Transitional measures will also protect filings notified before WRC-19 and brought into use before November 2023. In addition, the ITU will continue studies on several issues that could not be fully solved at WRC-19, including how to deal with supplemental links and protect EESS at 36-37 GHz.

WRC-19 also addressed the use of the 17.7-19.7 GHz and 27.5-29.5 GHz bands for satellite earth stations in motion (ESIM) – for example, to provide connectivity on board aircraft or on ships, operating with GSO space stations in the fixed-satellite service. This continued the work of WRC-15, which opened the 19.7-20.2 GHz and 29.5-30.0 GHz bands to ESIMs intended to provide reliable high-bandwidth connections to moving platforms.

Proper operational conditions, coordination methodologies and responsibilities for operation and interference management were agreed for maritime, aeronautical and land ESIM. In particular, the protection of terrestrial services from aeronautical ESIMs is ensured through a power flux density limit with a value which changes depending on the altitude of the aircraft. The requirement for altitudes above 3 km is in line with the existing European harmonisation conditions in ECC Decision (13)01 for the use of ESIM in 17.3-20.2 GHz and 27.5-30.0 GHz. Provisions were also agreed for maritime ESIM in terms of power restrictions, while land ESIM shall not cause unacceptable interference to terrestrial services in neighbouring countries.

Maritime and aeronautical communications

The WRC-19 agenda addressed the possible need of regulatory solutions for the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

While no change to the Radio Regulations was needed for GADSS, several measures were adopted to modernise GMDSS and to include a new satellite system provider. In particular, a primary allocation to the maritime mobile-satellite service (MMSS) was agreed in the frequency band 1621.35-1626.5 MHz. This will be used for the GMDSS, and for provisions to protect radioastronomy and the existing MMSS operations in the adjacent band. The solution adopted by the Conference is fully in line with the CEPT proposals.

To enhance maritime safety, WRC-19 also adopted measures that enable the satellite component of VHF data exchange systems (VDE-SAT). A new secondary allocation to the VDE-SAT uplink and downlink was agreed within the frequency bands of Appendix 18 of the ITU Radio Regulations, with an additional provision on the use of the downlink, subject to coordination with terrestrial stations in Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Russian Federation and in several countries outside of Europe. Finally, conditions were agreed for autonomous maritime radio devices that either enhance the safety of navigation (Group A) or do not concern the operation of vessels (Group B), using the automatic identifications system technology.

Scientific use of spectrum

Short-duration NGSO satellites, with a life span of typically less than three years, offer great potential for a variety of scientific and experimental missions.

WRC-19 approved simplified procedures not subject to coordination for NGSO short-duration satellite systems. WRC-19 also addressed spectrum needs for telemetry, tracking and command (TT&C) operations needed for these systems. Measures were adopted to facilitate the use of the bands 137-138 MHz (space to Earth) and 148-149.9 MHz (Earth to space) for the space operation service associated with short-duration mission satellite systems. These bands can be used on a non-interference, non-protected basis with respect to other primary services within the same bands. In addition, conditions were agreed to protect the aeronautical mobile (route) service in the adjacent band and a power-flux density limit was set to properly activate coordination with terrestrial stations in Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Russian Federation and in several countries outside Europe.

WRC-19 also agreed on power restrictions to avoid the growing use for TT&C in the 401-403 MHz and 399.9-400.05 MHz bands under the earth exploration-satellite service (EESS), meteorological-satellite service (MetSat) or mobile-satellite service. This will provide protection from interference to the large number of existing lower power data collection system stations communicating to sensitive receivers on GSO and NGSO satellites. Measures were also adopted to take into account existing systems.

WRC-19 considered the allocation of primary spectrum for MetSat and EESS (downlink) at 460-470 MHz. However, diverging views – especially dealing with the conditions to ensure protection of services in the same and adjacent frequency bands – could not be reconciled and it was agreed to apply no change to the Radio Regulations.

An overview of the outcome for all agenda items is available here, with additional detail available in the weekly reports from the Conference.