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The World Telecommunication Policy Forum on GMPCS

Highlights of the International Telecommunication Union's first World Telecommunication Policy FOrum, held October 21-23, 1996 in Geneva, Switzerland

January 1, 1997
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The World Telecommunication Policy Forum on GMPCS

Ferdo Ivanek
Communications Research
Palo Alto, CA

The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) first World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF-96) was held in Geneva, Switzerland October 21-23, 1996. The theme was "Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS)," and 1061 participants from 129 countries attended. Clearly, these numbers indicate the worldwide interest in the theme.

The acronym GMPCS was first used in the ITU's report of the Third Regulatory Colloquium held in 1994. At that time it stood for Global Mobile Personal Communication Systems and referred to systems commonly known as big LEOS (low earth-orbiting satellites). These proposed satellite systems raised a number of sensitive regulatory issues that required detailed consideration by ITU member countries. When the 1995 ITU Council decided to organize WTPF-96, it was already clear that the GMPCS concept needed to be expanded significantly to encompass an entire range of innovative satellite systems and services. Included in these services are existing and planned global and regional mobile satellite systems (MSS) providing voice and low speed data services and operating in the geostationary orbit (GSO); operational and planned global and regional satellite systems in nongeostationary orbits (NGSO) intended to provide mobile narrowband services (little LEOS or little NGSO MSS); NGSO MSS planned for global and regional deployment in two to five years to provide narrowband mobile services, including voice and low speed data, and operating in low earth orbits, medium earth orbits and highly elliptical orbits; and satellite systems planned for deployment in the next five to 10 years to provide fixed and transportable global and regional multimedia broadband services, and to operate either in GSO or NGSO orbits.

In view of this need for expansion, the ITU Council substituted the word satellite for systems, giving the acronym GMPCS a broader meaning. Readers familiar with ITU's Future Public Land Mobile Telecommunication Systems (FPLMTS) effort -- recently renamed International Mobile Telecommunication 2000 (IMT-2000) -- will recognize the parallel between the renamed GMPCS and the satellite component of FPLMTS/IMT-2000. However, there is a fundamental difference. Whereas IMT-2000 is a standardization framework, GMPCS is a policy framework intended to be technology independent. Quoting the WTPF-96 agenda set by the ITU Council, WTPF-96 was organized "to discuss and exchange views and information on the following policy and regulatory issues raised by the introduction of global mobile personal communications systems and services by satellite: the resulting globalization of telecommunication services and the scope for international cooperation in this context; the role of such systems in the provision of basic telecommunication services in developing countries, LDCs [least developed countries], and in rural and remote areas; measures necessary to achieve transborder use of such mobile terminals; policy and regulatory issues relevant to such systems and services, in particular those relating to interconnection, with a view to achieving equitable and standard conditions of access; and to draw up a report and, if possible, opinions for consideration by the members and relevant ITU meetings."

Accordingly, the WTPF-96 did not address technical matters. The distributed documentation and some of the introductory presentations contained generic technical information on the capabilities of the various satellite system categories only and not of the individual systems. This information appears to have satisfied the attendees who refrained equally from discussing competitive feasibility and capability claims presented in other meetings, as well as in the press and in promotional material. Nevertheless, nearby hospitality suites provided the opportunity to collect and discuss specific information outside of the WTPF-96 meetings. However, in the meetings, the proponents of the various candidate satellite systems pursued their common interest of removing regulatory barriers to worldwide or regional system deployment and service provision. Among the most visible manifestations of this commonality of interests within the WTPF on GMPCS was the unprecedented lavish reception offered jointly by the big LEOS group.

The WTPF-96 seems to have succeeded largely in seeking common ground and consensus between the three major parties represented. These parties include candidate GMPCS operators and service providers, telecommunication policymakers and regulators, and representatives of potential GMPCS user groups. Naturally, there was a basic difference of views expressed by representatives of the developed and developing countries, respectively. Regulators from developed countries appeared to have little difficulty with the regulatory desires of candidate GMPCS system operators and service providers under the condition that a nonprescriptive, nonbinding course of cooperative action was agreed upon. However, regulators from developing countries expressed concern that the potential costs and sovereignty risks associated with GMPCS could outweigh the benefits to their countries. These concerns received due consideration throughout the WTPF-96 meetings.

The main working document of the WTPF-96 was the report by the secretary-general of the ITU, "Policy and Regulatory Issues Raised by Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS)." The report provides the relevant background information, presents an overview of policy and regulatory issues, and introduces a set of five draft opinions for consideration and approval by WTPF-96. This carefully prepared report, based on a preceding report by ITU's World Telecommunication Advisory Council, greatly helped to focus the WTPF-96 and to achieve its objective. The cooperative outcome is due largely to the systematic preparatory work, in particular the preparation of the draft opinions with the assistance of an informal group of experts who represent a broad cross section of ITU member states from both developed and developing countries and different regions of the world collectively.

The report by the chairman of WTPF-96 includes the full texts of the following draft opinions: the role of GMPCS in the globalization of telecommunications, the shared vision and principles for GMPCS, essential studies by the ITU to facilitate the introduction of GMPCS, establishment of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to facilitate the free circulation of GMPCS user terminals and the implementation of GMPCS in developing countries. The most sensitive issue turned out to be the MoU, which attempts to overcome problems that may limit the viability of GMPCS systems if left unresolved. An example of such a problem is customs controls that restrict user mobility by imposing taxes on the use of foreign equipment or expressly forbid its use. Since such controls may impede GMPCS deployment and global roaming, they need to be relaxed. But it is necessary to accomplish this objective in a manner that takes into account the genuine concerns of the various national regulatory bodies involved. Apparently, the resulting draft MoU satisfies this crucial condition. However, finalizing the text will take additional time. Comments on the draft MoU were due December 31, 1996 and work on agreements relating to the free circulation of terminals is scheduled to start by the end of June.

Of course, there is no substitute for personal attendance. It became abundantly clear that, in addition to the multitude of complex technical problems that require continuing extensive efforts toward high quality, reliable, user-friendly and cost-effective satellite system implementations, complex problems exist in the policy and regulatory domains that still await appropriate solutions in order to justify the deployment of the various GMPCS systems and to assure their advantageous use worldwide.

The authoritative source of information on GMPCS policy and regulatory developments is the monthly ITU News (e-mail: dominique.bourne@itu.ch). Readers interested in more detailed information on the results of the WPTF-96 may access the full text of the chairman's report at: http://www.itu.ch/pforum/final_report-e.htm.

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