by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, 5 June 2000 -- The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) wound up late last Friday in Istanbul after four weeks of negotiations which have opened the way for the telecom industry to develop and deploy a host of sophisticated new radio-based communications systems over the next few years.

According to information provided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), important strides were made at WRC 2000 in sharing the radio frequency spectrum for a number of new and emerging applications such as the third-generation international mobile telecommunications, satellite based communications and the global positioning systems.

The WRC is the international forum where Member States come together to revise an international treaty - the Radio Regulations, which contain not only allocations to over 40 radiocommunication services but also provide the technical, operational and regulatory conditions for the use of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. It is held every two to three years with the purpose of reaching consensus on changes in the Regulations.

The additional spectrum for third-generation International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT-2000) was agreed upon, effectively giving the green light to the mobile industry worldwide to deploy confidently third-generation networks and services. IMT-2000 is intended to bring high-quality mobile multimedia telecommunications to a worldwide mass market based on a set of radio interfaces specified in the ITU standard which was agreed at the Radiocommunication Assembly held the week before the WRC.

The decision provides for three common bands, available on a global basis for countries wishing to implement the terrestrial component of IMT-2000. The agreement provides for a high degree of flexibility to allow operators to evolve towards IMT-2000 according to market and other national considerations. Making use of existing mobile and mobile-satellite frequency allocations, it does not preclude the use of these bands for other types of applications or by other services to which these bands are allocated - a key factor that enabled the consensus to be reached.

While the decision of the Conference globally provides for the immediate licensing and manufacturing of IMT-2000 in the common bands, each country will decide on the timing of availability at the national level according to need. This high degree of flexibility will also enable countries to select those parts of the bands where sharing with existing services is the most suitable, taking account of existing licences.

The conditions under which a new wave of non-geostationary satellites will operate have also been agreed to the satisfaction of all parties. The agreement balances the need to protect geostationary (GSO) networks, ensuring that GSO operators can continue to deliver the highest quality communications services from long-distance and international telephony to television and broadband Internet applications, while allowing new non-GSO systems to operate without undue constraints.

The new non-GSO systems promise to deliver new 'broadband' services which have the potential to deliver Internet and multimedia applications to homes and businesses anywhere in the world. The decisions of the Conference include some limits on earth stations of GSO networks and power limits on non-GSO systems to enable their co-existence without unacceptable interference. These power limits provide a quantitative measure of what is unacceptable and defines the rules of sharing in the Ku band (10-18 GHz). As a result, both GSO and non-GSO operators have the confidence to move ahead with the deployment of their systems to provide advanced services to their customers.

A new broadcasting-satellite plan for Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific has been adopted that can deliver direct satellite TV broadcasting signals to a growing customer base.

According to the ITU, the very divergent views on the issue were ironed out on the eve of the Conference through "quiet negotiations" among the key interested parties leading to an agreement to proceed at this Conference with the re-planning.

The new Plan accords generally one orbital position per country in Europe and Africa from which an equivalent of 10 analogue channels can be delivered. For Asia and Australasia, 12 analogue channels are available per country's orbital position. The decisions of WRC-2000 secure an economic capacity for each country to take up whenever market conditions are ripe without the fear of a shortage of spectrum in bands which are highly in demand by rapidly growing space-based systems and a host of other services.

In the area of global positioning systems, the WRC-2000 provided additional allocations for the radionavigation-satellite service which will be used to support a new satellite positioning system - Europe's Galileo - to add to the two current systems, Russia's GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

As businesses and consumers alike become more dependent on global positioning in their daily lives, the new allocations were needed to ensure that the services these satellite systems provide would be possible in the future.

The additional spectrum ensures protection of the GPS and GLONASS signals and makes it possible for them to develop into second-generation more precise systems while providing room for Europe's new system. It also adds competitiveness into a highly lucrative market in full expansion which is good news to users.

Allocations for high-density fixed services (HDFS) have also been agreed. HDFS provides wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technologies ranging from Fixed Wireless Access to high-speed broadband wireless systems such as Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS).

Through their ability to offer cost-effective, reliable metropolitan links, HDFS seem certain to play a growing role in a wide range of applications for business customers including low-cost facilities monitoring of remote sites, cutting costs, for example, on the current way of sending staff to subscribers' premises to read gas or electricity meters for invoicing.

The development of high-density fixed services is also seen as key to overcoming the risk of a local-loop bottleneck for broadband services. They can also potentially accommodate new telecoms operators aiming to gain market access in competitive environments by providing alternate technologies for upgrade of existing telephone infrastructure or for greater access and service choice for data and multimedia services.

In developing countries, it is a particularly promising technology for bridging the access gap because of the ease of installation and potentially lower costs. The ITU says it was difficult to achieve "the delicate balance between the often imperative need to get agreement so that businesses don't miss out on market opportunities without sacrificing national interests."

"With the far-reaching decisions made at this Conference, we can be confident to have made a further step forward in our goal of bringing the benefits of communications to all the world's inhabitants" ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi told delegates at the close of the Conference.

The Conference, which began on 8 May, attracted 2037 delegates from 150 countries including 83 companies registered as part of their national delegations and 326 observers from 95 organizations - including operators, manufacturers, international organizations and telecommunications-related organizations.

Other issues addressed by the Conference included the radio astronomy services as well as aeronautical and maritime services, and due diligence and cost recovery for satellite filings. (SUNS4681)

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