To the ITU: For the Union and for the Future, Untether the Wireless Future

The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference provides an opportunity for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to deliver the spectrum needed to fuel innovation and improve connectivity on a global basis. 

Everything is going mobile, from the way we personally communicate to how cars, machines, and other devices communicate. These services are critical to closing the worldwide digital divide, providing broadband capabilities to all who need them and spurring job creation and economic growth. But to create the space for those technologies to run free, the world must come together at the ITU to identify where in the airwaves those services can operate.

The technology exists to untether everything in sight -- and a lot of things beyond our sight -- from high-altitude pilotless planes to low-Earth-orbit satellites to the remote fringes of deep space.

But that technology needs access to the airwaves known as the radio frequency spectrum. At stake is the welfare of people in the United States and around the world. At no time in history has there been so much opportunity to expand not only the scope of wireless technologies, but their scale and reach, as well. And leaders in government and industry must take a stand to make a more prosperous mobile future possible.

This is why the November 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (often referred to as “WRC-15”) is so important.  Delegations from upwards of 165 countries will convene in Geneva, Switzerland, at this four-week, global treaty-making conference. The United States will send as many as 180 experts from every area of industry and government. Together, they will revise and update the world’s Radio Regulations, a treaty that governs the allocation and use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbital locations. These mutually agreed regulations affect literally every wireless device and system on Earth (and beyond), from WiFi to weather satellites and everything in between.

Here are some of the ways WRC-15’s outcomes could affect you:

  • By designating new radio frequency spectrum to allow the growth of commercial mobile broadband networks and services around the world. This will include studying future needs for 5G broadband spectrum.
  • By providing a safe method to use satellite links to command and control remotely piloted aircraft (also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UASs) on long-range flights. These UASs will revolutionize science and industry, allowing safer monitoring of hurricanes, rapid delivery of life-saving supplies to disaster areas, and even fast delivery of commercial package services.
  • Similarly, finding a way to track airliners anywhere in the world through satellite reception of data broadcast by the planes over oceans and other remote parts of the world. This will help address the gap in flight tracking coverage highlighted by the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean in 2014.
  • By setting an agenda for the 2019 conference that would enable new wireless services and increase broadband access, including high-altitude, solar-powered planes and new generations of communication satellites -- two technologies with promise for connecting remote parts of the world. 

The U.S. industry and government, working together on the U.S. delegation, are now preparing to take proposals to enable these and other technologies to WRC-15. Moreover, through our membership in the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (a part of the Organization of American States), we have hemisphere-wide proposals that have the backing of many countries in the Americas. The Americas are united in our efforts to bring innovation to telecommunications, aviation, aerospace and other high-tech fields. Wireless technologies are essential to these critical industries, which if given the opportunity will flourish and change all our lives.

The growth of wireless services globally depends on ITU’s orientation toward action in providing harmonized spectrum to support these broadband, satellite, and aviation technologies.  Wireless innovation is directly linked to the ITU’s stated goals to deliver expanded access to the digital economy, as well as to eliminate global disparities in access to information and communications technologies.

The baseline question for the ITU member and the ITU leadership: Can the ITU function in a timely and effective way as a force for innovation to untether the needed spectrum resources for 21st century wireless innovation?  We’ll know by November 27th.

About the Author: Daniel Sepulveda is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

A woman leans on metal railings as she surfs the internet on her smartphone
Posted by Daniel Sepulveda
October 14, 2015


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