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The International Broadband Wireless Jigsaw

A survey of impending international changes and developments in the world of broadband wireless technology

September 1, 2000
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The International Broadband Wireless Jigsaw

From ramp-up to near-3G services to developing broadband wireless for fixed network access, this year has seen major moves in the deployment of wireless services and technology introductions. In this special supplement, Microwave Journal surveys the impending international changes and developments in the world of broadband wireless.

Steve McClelland
Microwave Journal European Staff


T he wireless industry internationally has never been more exciting -- or confusing. Collectively, the industry stands on the verge of introduction of near-broadband services offering unprecedented data rates to users as so-called third-generation (3G) technologies are rolled out. Meanwhile, a slew of offerings in the fixed wireless access arena promise major new opportunities internationally as demonstrated by trials around the world of local multipoint distribution systems (LMDS). Behind the scenes, the industry has become a complex jigsaw of technology, spectrum availability and pricing. In the face of high entry costs, business models must be extremely flexible. Above all, there has been a growing realization of the critical importance of radio spectrum and the possibility of competing technologies in different parts of the world.

Third-generation mobile cellular on the international stage has been referred to as Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) or IMT-2000. Developing co-ordinated worldwide standards for 3G has been a complex task. Over the last 10 years, Japan, Europe and the US have all been at work on various formats approaching a 3G mobile technology for the 2 GHz band of operation in the radio spectrum. A global standard has been the objective to facilitate both roaming and economies of scale in the development and deployment of networks and terminals. From the user point of view, 3G has been specified to provide a high data rate service to support a wide range of services including multimedia applications.

Although the development of IMT-2000 and the overall international designation for 3G systems started with spectrum allocation in the early part of the last decade, several proposals competed on how to achieve the most appropriate 3G technology around the world. By the mid-1990s, several proposals were in contention. Following collaboration between Japan and Europe, the wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA) technology, officially known as UTRA, emerged as a standards proposal. Harmonization has continued between the various proposals. As a result, IMT-2000 could potentially be implemented by up to five technology variants around the world. These include IMT-2000 CDMA Direct Spread, IMT-2000 cdma2000 Multi-Carrier, IMT-2000 CDMA TDD and two TDMA variants: one based on DECT in Europe, and one based on UWC 136 in the US as an IMT-2000 single-carrier solution. Internationally, it is expected that the IMT-2000 CDMA Direct Spread will be the primary candidate.

The W-CDMA format adopted in Japan and Europe remains distinct from the cdma2000 technology adopted for North America, where no spectrum was available for the international proposals for IMT-2000, and a narrowband CDMA system existed. In spite of efforts to commonalize the technologies, significant differences exist between these two systems. The radio access part of the 3G standard regime has been separated from the core network part to permit operators to run different configurations. Three different modes of radio access, represented by the FDD Direct Spread, FDD Multi-Carrier and TDD technologies, are permissible.

These are for future, although near-term, implementation. Exactly how telecom operators migrate to 3G systems from current 2G systems such as GSM, however, has been a subject of massive debate within the industry. It is possible to implement many wireless data applications with the currently available GSM data rates of 9.6 kbps. The probable 3G standard internationally will be W-CDMA to which the main digital cellular standards such as GSM and CDMA will migrate. While UMTS will offer data transmission speeds of 2 Mbps (for stationary users), compared with present capability of 9.6 kbps for most GSM handsets, technologies "on the way to UMTS" such as General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) will offer 144 kbps. Another option is High Speed Circuit Switched Data (HSCSD). For multimedia and Internet applications, however, higher bandwidths should prove more attractive. Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution (EDGE), a new radio interface technology with enhanced modulation, increases HSCSD and GPRS data rates up to three fold.

The industry remains pre-occupied with 3G and its implications, but for some observers, 3G is but a way-station towards a "true" mobile broadband technology yet to be developed. One rationale for this is the continuing and prospective demand for mobile data services, unanticipated a decade ago when the first discussions took place at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) for 3G spectrum allocation. While 3G can support 2 Mbps service, this would only be possible for stationary users near base stations. In other areas, or for users on the move, it is likely to be considerably less, perhaps 384 kbps. The proposed 4G system -- perhaps available in the 2010 timeframe -- will support data rates much higher than the 2 Mbps limit of 3G and potentially deliver 10 Mbps on a downlink basis.

3G: THE BIG CHALLENGE?*

For much of the industry, the next big hurdle is undoubtedly the exciting prospect of 3G mobile cellular technology. It also presents enormous challenges that apply to all entrants, new or established 2G operators. Spectrum fees, new technology, new value chains and business models, network development costs, new skills and staff are all issues that must be addressed. Perhaps most important, the prospective data market, generally assumed to be at the very heart of 3G revenue generation, is expected to boom in the next few years. Currently, however, there is no visibility of applications that will drive it, still less at what pace, what ultimate market size and what overall profitability. So, for the time being, 3G may well have all the components of a highly risky business. This year, however, has seen enormous operator interest around the world and numerous bidders in the major licence contests. The key question is: Why does 3G remain attractive for operators even though they know that, in all likelihood, they will face a major challenge in their business?

A Last Opportunity?

It is certainly arguable that 3G presents an opportunity to enter international markets -- particularly European markets -- and become a significant player. Of course, in many ways the ultimate flavour of 3G in terms of business model and technology is quite different from existing 2G technologies such as GSM, the most prevalent international system. Even so, for players who have not achieved success in 2G markets, this may be the last chance to gain significant business in the mobile market of a given country. This rationale is most likely the primary driver for major European operators to bid for 3G.

If we look at the European telecom landscape after the fixed business deregulation phase and mobile licence awards, it is evident that none of the major players has a full European footprint today. At least five to 10 players are seeking pan-European positions. (Vodafone/Airtouch, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom/Orange are good examples.) UMTS, therefore, is an additional opportunity for these players to enter markets where they do not currently have penetration. Alternatively, but arguably more difficult, is that they make acquisitions to access the remaining markets.

UMTS is also an opportunity for non-European players to step into Europe: TWI from Canada has been selected as the fifth player in UK and is now reportedly seeking other European positions. It is also clear that NTT DoCoMo from Japan will want to be very active in European 3G to leverage its own home operations. DoCoMo, in fact, expects to be the first operator in the world to initiate 3G services (currently scheduled to begin in May 2001).

Pan-European operations -- and, prospectively, global operations -- are advantageous for several reasons. Operators can implement global services (such as unified voice mail and global mobile portals) and run major global branding exercises to differentiate themselves. Clearly, global positioning provides economics of scale in the sharing of service development costs, operational experience, tools and methodologies for network building and market intelligence between different affiliates of a same group. Investors likewise perceive globalization and large operational footprints as necessary to be a 'happy survivor' and reduce the risk of hostile take-overs during the inevitable consolidation phase in the marketplace.

We are now in a phase of building this international presence. For example, France Telecom tried without success to enter Spain and the UK with UMTS and consequently acquired Orange to step into the the UK 3G business. France Telecom is thought to be targetting Sweden and Norway and may possibly acquire Sonera in Finland. France's Vivendi was more successful in Spain. Deutsche Telekom was unsuccessful in Spain but will try again in France.

The Big Squeeze

Another factor is the regulatory push to compress the licencing schedule. One estimate expects some 75 UMTS licences to be active in Europe by the end of the schedule. These will be awarded by various means: by pure 'beauty contest' (for example, Spain and Sweden), by pure auctions (UK, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium) or, in some cases, by a mix of both (perhaps in France and Italy). Depending on the process, European governments stand to make a lot of money from spectrum -- and make it quickly -- in a 24-month period from the end of 1999 to the end of 2001. By comparison, it took about five years to award around 60 GSM licences for the same set of countries. This in turn means that operators may not have sufficiently thought through their exact business intentions. Bidding in some cases has taken place simply to prevent any competitive advantage.

Under the auction process, the system may seek to maximize the fees but cannot at the same time impose too many commitments in terms of launch dates, delivered services or provided coverage. For instance, in the UK, ¤33 B (Euros) have been collected for five licences (equivalent to ¤6.5 B per licence) with no specific commitments regarding the network implementation or exact service launch date.

Alternatively, those who selected the beauty contest can put more emphasis on a 3G services launch date, percentage of covered population or territory, or network development pace -- an aggresive launch date aims not only at stimulating the local market for 3G services but also at stimulating European industry to manage equipment delivery. More significant European, US and Asian competition can be expected on the vendor side compared with the GSM cycle.

Launch dates vary. In Spain, a launch date of mid-2001 has been mooted by some candidates. In France (running a hybrid licence system), candidate operators selected through a beauty contest process will have to pay ¤5 B each to access the spectrum. At the same time, they will have to commit to a launch date and network development pace. Commercial launch will probably take place around mid-2002.

UMTS: A New Age Business?

The economics of UMTS remain unclear, with high costs of entry and unproven and (at this point) potentially unattractive business cases. The business cases are, in fact, particularly difficult to analyse because eventual services are still indeterminate. No killer application has been identified. Pricing and subscriber forecasts are similarly hazy. Meanwhile, entry costs have shot up. The first 3G licence auctions saw eventual spectrum fees reach more than US $33 B -- some 10 times more than initially expected. In the battle to enter 3G internationally, amounts may look large and perhaps even inconsistent to outsiders. France Telecom paid some ¤50 B to acquire Orange and a 3G presence in the UK, whereas, together with NTL, France Telecom had only a few weeks before giving up the UK 3G auction at ¤6 B.

Of course, mobile Internet based on UMTS is one predictably popular application, but here there are concerns. Internet players of all types have recently experienced extremely high valuations if very poor cash flows. But, the market has also changed as free ISPs have taken hold. Consequently, it will be extremely difficult for 3G operators to charge for Internet access -- necessarily shifting value from access to content. The value chain is moving towards services and content for which subscribers are willing to pay. The merger between Time Warner and America Online and the latest partnership announcement between Vivendi and Vodafone indicate that the players are on the move to bring content through mobile Internet.             

The next move will probably concern global access providers, together with portal/content providers, because there is a need for access providers to generate revenues formerly generated by access. UMTS is fundamentally a key in providing content to wireless subscribers. One of two scenarios might be the eventual outcome: Either the content industry will try to move to its final customers through networks, or network operators will take over content providers to retain revenue streams. Either is possible, but one thing is certain: 3G operators will not look like 2G operators. In the meantime, there will probably be many partnerships between all players concerned such as content providers, service providers, software platform providers and, of course, vendors, as well as classical operators who have a converged interest in making 3G happen as soon as possible. These alliances will help to raise the funds necessary to build networks. Afterwards, consolidation will be inevitable. In the meantime, 3G business, with its mix of content and services, will look like a new age business.

However, operators will need to address the costs of building access. Even with unprecedented spectral efficiency at the 2 GHz band, UMTS will require high base station density, probably comparable to that of GSM 1800 (that is, a few hundred meters in urban areas). Equally, UMTS is an emerging, rather than a mature, technology, so start-up costs will inevitably be more significant, especially where national coverage or high quality indoor coverage is required. Capital expenditures on networks could range from ¤2 B to ¤5 B on a 15-year cumulative basis depending on the coverage areas and average bit-rate delivered. Pay back may optimistically be of the order of seven years but, according to some industry estimates, could be between 10 to 15 years if entry costs exceed ¤6 B. High costs could spur a vicious circle: Higher service pricing would likely deter subscribers and lead to diminished revenue streams.

UMTS: Embracing Market Segments

From a business model standpoint, UMTS sits at the crossroads of mobility, bandwidth, advanced services and a high value content that allows operators an unprecedented opportunity to develop innovative services. These features will allow operators to define focused strategies for different market segments. Ultimately, operators with nationwide UMTS coverage, excellent indoor reception and an agressive service policy will find they will make a massive impact on the global telecom industry -- and progressively the media industry as well.

In specific terms, consider residential fixed voice services. Internationally, GSM operators have already made major contributions to wireless/wireline substitution. These contributions will be reinforced as the mass market is developed and new UMTS players enter the market with aggressive business development plans.

Wireless, voice and specific wireless data services represent other opportunities. New UMTS players will reinforce competition in this already aggressive market. For example, the technical possibilities of UMTS on the Internet will enable or accelerate the substitution initiated in GPRS services. In 2000, an average residential Internet user experiences 56 kbps access, and early assymetrical digital subscriber loop (ADSL) adopters experience a few hundred kbps. By 2002, current ADSL capabilities will be enabled on air via UMTS. Thus, a UMTS network deployed on a large scale by a new entrant offers potentially the prospect of a 2 Mbps wireless local loop via UMTS to the final customer. UMTS will support lifestyle Internet use (such as e-commerce and audio CD/video download) with a mobility component.

Another promising segment will be corporate voice and data applications. Wireless offers for corporate voice are currently on the way to the market. Again, 2.5G will educate the corporate market on wireless data applications (such as access to database and Internet/intranet). 3G will further enhance this towards a take off point in a lucrative corporate market.

Finally, there is a real prospect of true multimedia, although it is still difficult to imagine how 3G will affect the TV, radio broadcasting or CD communities. If technical capability, services and prices are all right, on-demand and real-time video applications could open up entirely new revenue streams for operators.

What About Existing GSM?

For those who currently operate GSM networks, the 3G story is quite different. In some cases, GSM networks have been established for nearly 10 years, and the market has matured into a virtuous circle of subscriber increases, diminished network costs and aggressive service pricing, leading to increased penetration. This has accelerated business pay back; however, it is probable that after six or seven years of loss, they will seek to improve their cash flow in the next few years.

While most operators believe that new revenues will come from data service, their interest is to minimize any extra investment needed to address this emerging wireless data market and preserve cash flow. Consequently, HSCSD and GPRS investments are seen in the market. These are viewed as an evolution of GSM for data transmission. In turn, this may diminish the business incentive to go to true 3G networks. Equally, they must also plan for mid-term scenarios, especially in countering new UMTS entrants that may implement aggressive services from scratch. Do these operators have to go to EDGE, do they have to turn to UMTS and is there an optimal road map from 2G to 3G?

These are critical questions, as European regulators are both pushing the UMTS licensing process and offering quasi-guarantees to existing GSM operators to deliver a 3G licence as soon as they can compete and pay for it. The issue for GSM operators is licence acquisition to preserve their long-term business (and face high up-front costs) or be attacked by competitors, especially if that competition comes in the form of mass market wireless multimedia in which they probably lack spectrum.

However, some GSM operators may prefer a smooth evolution through GPRS to EDGE technologies, which, in some cases may be more cost-effective for delivered services in quasi-competition with UMTS. In bit rate terms, this evolution would be from a 384 kbps limit to a 2 Mbps EDGE service vs. a 2 Mbps UMTS limit. In these circumstances, it would be difficult to say what UMTS would do for customers that EDGE cannot achieve. In turn, the main interest for existing operators would be preserved: Much existing technology is used, substantial capital expenditure is avoided and spectrum competition is minimized.

The road map to 3G for an existing GSM operator is not entirely evident. It is probable that most operators choosing this route will go through GPRS from mid-2000 (for early adopters) to end-2001 (for late adopters). After this stage, it depends on market reaction to the proposed new data services. If the demand is widespread and requires additional bandwidth, an EDGE overlay to these networks may be practical.

Even so, observers expect that, despite uncertainty in the ultimate business cases, most existing operators will compete for UMTS, but they will try to negotiate as far as possible minimized investment conditions for the licence especially when beauty contests are involved. This would involve a desire for lower spectrum fees, a progressive roll-out plan involving UMTS 'islands' and a case-by-case basis for commercial launch dates (rather than imposition by the regulator). Equally, the community may push the vendors aggressively to supply dual-mode terminals as soon as possible so that 3G can be implemented gradually within existing GSM networks.

Despite high uncertainties and risks of the 3G business case, there are underlying strategic reasons for operators to compete for 3G and build networks. European regulators have understood this and are applying pressure to both initiate the schedule as soon as possible and generate as much fee income as possible. Meanwhile, the 3G business will probably move to a new era where equivalent voice services across all subscribers give way to some sort of specific content for each customer. It remains a high stakes game, but arguably a worthwhile one to produce a world based on wireless multimedia.

TDMA, EDGE & GSM/TDMA CONVERGENCE?**

3G presents challenges for other cellular families, including TDMA technologies. While the current TDMA user base is significantly smaller than the existing GSM population, it is still substantial. According to the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium (UWCC), the main international TDMA industry body, which released figures at its recent international conference, there were 35.1 million TDMA subscribers worldwide at the end of 1999. This figure has grown from 9.2 million subscribers at year-end 1997 and 18.6 million subscribers at year-end 1998. Most TDMA subscribers are located in North America (19.2 million at year-end 1999) and Latin America (13.9 million at year-end 1999). There were also an estimated 30 million analog users within TDMA networks last year. Therefore, including those subscribers, TDMA networks served 65.1 million cellular subscribers at the end of last year, said Chris Pearson, vice president of marketing at the UWCC. Since the previous UWCC Global Summit, the organisation developed a branding logo (TDMA-EDGE) and marketing line: "Taking wireless beyond the call."

Another important development for the group was the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) acceptance of EDGE into the IMT-2000 specifications, which acknowledges the technology as a 3G solution. "We are very clear that EDGE is 3G and nothing else," said Bjorn Olsson, executive vice president and general manager for Ericsson's TDMA systems. The two varieties of EDGE -- compact and classic -- are targeted for deployment in two phases in 2002 and 2003. In the US, first-phase deployments will likely use EDGE compact in the 850 MHz band because it is a frequency reuse technique for limited spectrum situations. EDGE classic will be better suited for the 1900 MHz band in the US because the operators have more capacity available there. The standard will also include a specification for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). Both versions of EDGE have data rates up to 384 kbps, but the deployment decision is based on spectrum availability.

Even with the ITU's acceptance and the UWCC's keenness to promote the standard as a 3G technology, is EDGE destined to be a 'poor man's 3G'? "Calling EDGE 3G is all positioning and nomenclature," said Jane Zweig, executive vice president of Herschel Shosteck Associates. "Yes, it meets the ITU requirements. But EDGE follows the path that the TDMA operators are taking toward converging with the GSM world. But where the disconnect falls is that if the GSM world gets UMTS spectrum, then the manufacturing community isn't going to put R&D effort and spending into EDGE in the way that the TDMA world will need it. There's only so much money to go around."

The TDMA operators have always been at a disadvantage to the GSM players in that they haven't had the scale of manufacturers behind them, Zweig said. Manufacturers are currently under pressure to deliver general packet radio service (GPRS) handsets for commercial deployments this year. EDGE deployments are scheduled for 2002 and 2003, which is a similar timetable for early UMTS deployments. Vendors will be hard pressed to deliver not only the infrastructure for next-generation wireless networks, but also the handsets.

"There is a window of opportunity for EDGE, but in Europe the window is small," said Jake Saunders, senior analyst at the Strategis Group in London. "Given that most operators are deploying GPRS, they won't have time to fritter away with other technologies before moving to wideband CDMA." Saunders believes EDGE deployments will be in the TDMA markets or where operators do not acquire UMTS spectrum.

Ericsson's Olsson sees more opportunity for EDGE in Europe because it will be deployed in less densely populated areas, where UMTS would not be cost-effective to deploy. "In Europe, the introduction of 3G will be a combination of EDGE and wideband CDMA," said Olsson. At the UWCC conference, speakers and attendees frequently said that this business isn't about technology anymore -- it's about what the technology can deliver. "I'm amazed by how much column space and verbal energy is spent on minute differences in technology," said David Nagel, president of AT&T Labs at AT&T Wireless, during a panel discussion, which included representatives from Alcatel, BellSouth Cellular, Ericsson, Lucent, Movilnet, Nortel, Rogers AT&T Wireless, SBC Wireless and the UWCC.

Nagel's view was echoed by the operators on the panel: "This is about applications," said Ed Reynolds, president of BellSouth Mobility. "Customers don't want EDGE, they want something that can do something for them. We've been trying to push data to people, but we should let people pull applications out of us." Stephen Carter, president of SBC Wireless said: "We have to educate the customer about what the applications can do. We must be careful not to over price. We must avoid the comparison to surfing on the Internet at home. And it would be disastrous to say that 3G can do more than it can. We have to differentiate ourselves and not just sell the Internet." Other panelists seemed less certain about what the future holds for 3G, expressing the challenge of dealing with reduced development cycles. "It's what we don't know that we ought to be concerned about," said Alistair Westgarth, director of product management at Nortel. "About 50 to 60 percent of my road map is wrong over a 36-month period. Five years ago, that would make me break out into a cold sweat and worry about getting fired."

The message from the conference was the endorsement of EDGE as a 3G technology. While industry observers can debate the details on whether EDGE is 3G or not, the business issues for next-generation wireless applications and services are universal regardless of the technology that delivers them.

FIXED WIRELESS MEETS BROADBAND

Although internationally much attention has been given to the development of 3G (mainly because of the spectrum auctions involved), it is clear that broadband access using fixed wireless technologies on a point to multipoint basis has also come of age. In particular, it seems that broadband wireless could be a critical technology to the development of competitive telecom operators at the network access level. Such operators could roll out their networks to subscribers far more rapidly than infrastructure based on wireline technologies, which require considerable public works infrastructure on relatively long timetables. While it is likely that some parts of 3G will also be used for such so-called wireless local loop (WLL) applications, emphasis is likely to be put on the various LMDS technologies now being tested internationally. LMDS systems typically work in multi-megabit data rates in the 26 to 28 GHz band. One manufacturer, Alcatel, claims that LMDS can support high speed Internet services to as many as 4000 customers within a 75-square- kilometer area. However, several frequency bands are contemplated for WLL services and 3 GHz systems are in use. In some countries, the 40 GHz band is also contemplated.

Analysts predict that broadband fixed wireless services could generate as much as US $10 B in 10 years. While North America will be the largest market, analysts expect more than a quarter of the global market to be in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Much of Europe has issued, or is issuing, licences for wireless broadband services, including Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. France and the UK are in the middle of the licencing process. Many South American countries have also licenced, or plan to licence, spectrum. This follows a burst of US licensing activity in 1998.

Broadband wireless is set to follow UMTS into a licence auction system in the UK. While it is not expected that fixed wireless licences will generate the same scale of fees that 3G did, it is still predicted that revenues could exceed US $1.5 B. In the UK, 42 licences are available to operate WLL services from 2001 on a 25-year basis. The licences themselves cover 11 English regions, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also plans to develop the 40 GHz band in the future.

Meanwhile, there is an entirely separate but growing interest in providing fixed wireless access in lower frequency bands, particularly in the 5 GHz region. Originally conceived of as being appropriate for wireless LAN technology, experts note there is a growing consensus to develop this platform for many different applications. In particular, momentum is growing to support the adoption of HiperLAN2 as a common worldwide wireless LAN standard. HiperLAN2 offers up to a 54 Mbps wireless connection in the globally allocated and free 5 GHz spectrum.

The standard is being promoted by a newly constituted industry association, the HiperLAN2 Global Forum (H2GF), which is backed by Bosch, Dell, Ericsson, Nokia, Telia, Texas Instruments, Alcatel, Adaptive Broadband, Axis Communications, Cambridge Silicon Radio, Canon, Grundig, Matsushita Communication, Motorola, NTT, Philips, Samsung, Siemens and Silicon Wave. The Forum says that broadband wireless LAN technology is the only one to support corporate, public and home environments with high speed access to multimedia applications and information and, similarly, the technology is also the only one that specifies complementing 3G cellular technology. This is an extremely significant issue because prospective demand for wireless-based data services, particularly in hot spot areas such as central business districts and airports, may overwhelm the capability of 3G, which was conceived in a pre-Internet era when voice services still appeared to be predominant. It will bring seamless connectivity between communication devices and networks (including 3G cellular systems) and provide mobility, flexibility and quality of service for future multimedia and real-time video applications. The Forum says that increased interest in the HiperLAN2 standard ensures interoperability between different vendor equipment while offering best-in-class broadband wireless connectivity and access. The standard supports various fixed network protocols including Ethernet, ATM and IP.

THE SPECTRUM DIMENSION***

Overshadowing all existing and prospective wireless technologies is a critical piece of the jigsaw: spectrum availability. The high fee operators have been prepared to pay for access to 3G spectrum in Europe underscores once again that spectrum is a scarce resource. Allocating spectrum around the world is a complex job because of the many competing demands on the resource and the requirement that new applications do not interfere with existing ones. The focus of attention has been on the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), itself a marathon event, held about every three years. The WRC seeks to determine spectrum allocation policies for the future. Most recently, WRC-2000 was held in Istanbul during May and early June 2000, a critical time for the international wireless community.

To gain international recognition for new applications using the radio spectrum, the required frequency allocation has to be obtained at the WRC. If enough studies have been done and sharing is possible, a WRC will usually make such new allocations along with the technical conditions for the use of the newly allocated frequencies. If enough studies have not been carried out, then the conference may make provisional frequency allocations to be confirmed by the next WRC. Agreements are reached through consensus-building, although some administrations occasionally take a reservation on certain decisions. Sometimes the divergence of opinion is too great and no decision can be made. For example, in a certain frequency range, should preference be given to terrestrial systems or satellite networks? In these cases, a carefully worded resolution to further study the issue is agreed upon and the item is postponed to a future conference.

The WRC-2000 agenda contained more than 20 items. Some of the more controversial issues included re-planning the ITU region 1 (Europe and Africa) and 3 (Asia and Australia) for broadcast satellite services (BSS); confirming the equivalent power-flux density (EPFD) limits for frequency sharing between geo-synchronous orbit (GSO) and non-GSO/fixed satellite service (FSS) satellites; the allocation of new frequencies for the radionavigation satellite service (RNSS) to accommodate the proposed Galileo system; and issues related to IMT-2000/UMTS.

The re-planning of the region 1 and 3 BSS plan was the highest priority item for Arab, African and, to a lesser extent, Asian countries. The WRC-2000 agenda item dealing with it called only for the results of studies on the feasibility of a region 1 and 3 BSS re-planning to be presented to WRC-2000 with the conference deciding the basis for re-planning. The actual re-planning was to be completed at the next WRC. However, during informal meetings with Europe, the Arab and African countries threatened to withhold support on items of great importance to Europe (EPFD limits and UMTS issues) unless Europe agreed to re-planning of the region 1 and 3 BSS plan at this year's WRC. Europe agreed and when the rest of the countries learned of it they were upset they had not been included in the negotiations. Eventually all countries accepted the agreement and the conference took the formal decision that the re-planning of the Region 1 and 3 BSS plan would be done at WRC-2000. This in turn ensured the support of the Arab and African countries on the other items.

Region 1 and 3
BSS Re-planning

WRC-2000 adopted a new region 1 and 3 BSS plan. This increased the number of channels assigned to each administration on average from five to 10 for countries in region 1 and on average from four to 12 for countries in region 3. Each channel has a nominal bandwidth of 27 MHz, although the channel spacing used in the plan allows for bandwidths as large as 33 MHz. In region 1 there is a total of 800 MHz spectrum allocated (40 channels in the 11.7 to 12.5 GHz range on the downlink) and in region 3 a total of 500 MHz spectrum is allocated (24 channels in the 11.7 to 12.2 GHz on the downlink).

The BSS plan is based on beams that cover only the national territory; therefore, in the majority of cases such beams will never be implemented since it does not make economic sense to launch a satellite with only 10 (or 12) transponders. Planning often sterilises the spectrum/orbit resource since one administration cannot use the channels assigned to another. This was the reason that Europe had resisted re-planning, referring instead to access spare capacity in the plan through associated modification procedures, which allow for supra-national coverage and additional channels up to a total of 40 channels in region 1 and 24 channels in region 3. Modifications to the plan must be coordinated. Many such modifications had been submitted and had either been fully coordinated or were in the process of being coordinated. As a compromise it was decided to include in the plan all systems that had been fully coordinated and for which due diligence information had been submitted.

Frequency Sharing

The WRC-2000 agreed on EPFD limits on non-GSO FSS systems for both the Ku- and Ka-bands. This enables these systems to share frequencies and to protect GSO networks and networks in the terrestrial fixed service (FS). This agreement gives SkyBridge the necessary regulatory certainty needed to proceed with its Ku-band project to provide two-way broadband services on a worldwide basis using its proposed constellation of 80 LEO satellites.

The previous WRC in 1997 granted access to these frequency bands to SkyBridge-type systems on condition that technical studies be conducted to develop appropriate technical parameters and rules in order to protect existing geostationary satellite and terrestrial communications networks from interference. WRC-2000 approved the results of those studies and adopted new provisions in the ITU Radio Regulations.

Other Issues

The mobile satellite operators, especially Inmarsat, were seeking additional L-band spectrum allocations, but the conference made no such allocations and decided instead that further studies were required to identify additional bands. The filing backlog at the ITU for satellite networks is now so large that if no new filings were received from today, it would still take three years to clear. The conference adopted some measures intended to alleviate the situation. In addition, the identification of networks that new satellite networks must coordinate was simplified. The conference also drew up a tentative agenda for the next WRC, slated for 2002 or 2003. There were so many agenda items proposed that it was difficult to decide which items to include, although with much difficulty a final list was compiled. This tentative agenda will receive further consideration by the ITU Council, which meets yearly.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Although edited by Steve McClelland, segments of this report were written by the following individuals: *Farouk Goulam is director of wireless technologies and applications for TELEMATE Mobile Consultants, Vincennes, France. He can be contacted at fgoulam@telemate.fr. **Michelle Petty Donegan is executive editor at Telecommunications ® International magazine. ***Jorn Christensen is a frequency coordination consultant. He can be reached at jorn@bmts.com. *

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