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Europe's take on the World Radio Conference

21 March 2012

On February 29, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) received a briefing in Brussels on the European perspective on WRC-12. Steve Bond, the Co-Chair of the CEPT Conference Preparatory Group gave an overview of the results. Bond said that the CEPT's main objectives were met at the conference and its results also were in line with the key EU interests.

The World Radiocommunication Conference finished in Geneva in mid-February, after four laborious weeks of debate among more than 3,000 participants from over 150 countries. Now the job comes of interpreting what was decided at the WRC-12 and how it affects different sectors. Participants and officials were looking at these issues in Brussels in the last few weeks.

On February 29, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) received a briefing in Brussels on the European perspective. Steve Bond, the Co-Chair of the CEPT Conference Preparatory Group (CPG) gave an overview of the results. The CEPT is the European Conference of Post and Telecoms, representing 48 European countries. It was responsible for preparing European Common Positions defended at WRC-12.  Bond said that the CEPT’s main objectives were met at the conference and its results also were in line with key EU interests.

The RSPG Chairman's report of this briefing was posted on March 19. It identifies the most controversial and unexpected result of WRC-12, coming from “the proposal by African and Arab states to co-allocate the 700 MHz band to mobile communications.”  The CEPT unanimously opposed this “extended digital dividend” to no avail in the face of a united position from the African and Arab countries. European broadcasters were expecting some push by mobile providers to gain access to that spectrum, currently set aside for television, but they had no idea that the Southern part of ITU Region 1 would push so hard to open up the band. 

The result is that the 700 MHz band will be opened for mobile providers in 2015, after WRC-15, subject to technical studies. The RSPG report underplays the WRC-12 decision by arguing that “this result does not impose a particular approach to the EU at the moment.” Of course it does not, because it only comes into effect in three years, but the broadcasters are exceedingly unhappy about this turn of events. The mobile sector can hardly believe its luck, and the report says that this matter was “one of the hot topics at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona earlier in the week.”

By contrast, the Europeans were happy with the new allocation at 5 GHz for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), because it provides for a safe sub-band uplink for the European Galileo global positioning satellite system. The agenda item on Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Services (AMSS) was called a “difficult topic” but one for which a solution was found. “By and large, the results in the area of scientific use are good (e.g. protection of earth observation in 80 and 90 GHz),” according to the RSPG summary.

The CEPT produced a report on the overall WRC-12 results, which is posted on the RSPG website. The report is more detailed than the Chairman's summary, and refers to results affecting satellite, transport and scientific uses.

The European Commission representative at the RSPG meeting said that it needs to “digest” the results of WRC-12 but plans to issue a staff paper in a matter of weeks. It plans to assess these results against the European spectrum inventory that must be conducted under the recently approved Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, issued officially on March 21.

Despite the claim that the 700 MHz issue establishes no immediate obligations, the Europeans seem to be taking this WRC-12 result most seriously. The RSPG Chairman concluded the discussion by announcing that he will convene a “strategic debate” on this issue at the next RSPG meeting in early June.

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